As it appeared in the September 2013 update of @perihelionsf.com.
Thanks Sam, for taking a chance on a first-timer.
REVENGE IN SHANTY TOWN
By Seth W. Kennedy & Edited by Sam Bellotto Jr.
COATED WITH A LIGHT PATINA of rust, the plazas and strip-malls of the old waterfront district lay hollow and dead. Grey fog, rolling in off the harbor, pushed ever inland, slid through the salt corroded diamonds of twisted chain link, and over the glinting shards of broken windows. Flicking my half-finished smoke into the gutter, I abandoned the shadows of a burned-out apartment stoop, slipped down Marlin Street towards the wharf, and unfinished business.
I pushed my way through the battered, red doors of The Droll just shy of two a.m., my handcrafted Algerian .44 strapped to the small of my back. It’d been a decade since I’d last set foot in place, and it hadn’t changed.
Heading straight for the bar, I ignored the presences of the Senator, the useless fuck, and his two monstrous goons. Winding through the tight grid of mirrored tables, I claimed a rickety stool, boots thumping against the dull brass foot rail as I sat. Motioning to the barkeep, my eyes shifted involuntarily towards the Senator. The embers of vengeance smoldered in the depths of my gut.
A rundown speakeasy at the wharf end of Hemlock, The Droll was a dark, dank coffin of a place, haunted by the unyielding stink of stale liquor, disinfectant and expired protein gruel. The bar, constructed of ancient wrought iron and topped with mirrored Plexiglas, was a perpetual showcase of holographic Skins, each slowly twisting a digital rendition of the bump and grind.
Senator Duncan, a weakly stick of a man with a demon’s attitude, cut a ghostly silhouette against the glare of the huge plasma display that dominated the entire east wall of the speakeasy. Sadistic in nature, he grinned savagely at the images of torture and sexual domination that flashed across the screen, silent and terrible.
Hands resting on the bar’s mirror surface, I closed my eyes and took a steadying breath, checked the chains on my anger, then exhaled slowly and deliberately—memories, unbidden and unwanted, welled to the surface.
Pale-yellow light streamed in through the barred window of my cell. Four hulking shadows loomed, whispers echoed. The cold snap of a dart-gun, and the sting of a needle; my body locked in ice—the paralysis of Oxycodone and Cyclobenzaprine. Numb. Latex covered hands gripping purple-handled pliers dipped for my mouth. The bitter taste of salt and iron.
“What’s y’er poison?” The barkeep asked, his words tinged with a faint Southern drawl.
My lids snapped open and the memories fell away like burning chaff. “Old Fashioned,” I said, “with Wathen’s if yah got it.”
“Comin’ up.” And he headed for a small refrigerator at the far end of the counter, grabbing a bottle of bitters from beside the old cash register as he passed.
“Well, if it isn’t the infamous Bastard of Buena, come to grace us with his presence.” Suddenly disinterested in the art of pornography, Senator Duncan had turned his back to the Vid-Wall. Black lifeless eyes locked on yours truly. “Are you done playing games?”
Shifting leisurely on my stool I leaned against the bar, right elbow disrupting one of the Skins as it swayed, pixilation distorting its lusty dance. A decade in solitary had done nothing to dull the edge of my anger, and I took another deep calming breath as I stared at the Senator—embers of vengeance sparking to life.
Without looking away, I reached into my jacket and retrieved a silver Micro-SD card. Rolled it across the back of my knuckles. I’d traveled a long way to get to this moment, and I was going to savor every last millisecond, breath it in like crisp autumn air.
Stone hard, the Senator’s face was a study in power gone mad, and his right eye twitched. Buoyed by his open frustration, I smiled. The stainless-steel crescents that occupied the space where my teeth had been glinted in the light of the plasma display, its barbaric images twisting in their reflective surface.
My steels, as I called them, had been a parting gift from the Czech Republic. And though I liked the look of them—mine was a life built on reputation, and a stainless-steel smile had only added to my personal lore—I’d vowed that the man responsible for their brutal implantation would pay for the act.
I glared at the Senator, an I don’t give a fuck look on my face.
The Senator’s bodyguards—twin biochemical monstrosities dressed in identical thunder gray suits—quivered in response to my open defiance, the involuntary movement a product of the mandated neural link with their boss. Juxtaposed against the Senator’s gaunt frame, the pair seemed bloated and unearthly; their freakish bulk was the result of anabolic therapy, accompanied by the relentless worship of Aesculapian deities. I sniffed with derision.
“Care to join us?” The Senator asked, his laugh forced, thin skeletal arms outstretched in mock of a loving welcome.
“Fuck you.” I spat, metal smile firmly in place.
Sharp and animal, a cackle burst from the Senator’s thin lips. He ran a bony finger across the table’s silvery edge and the voluptuous, auburn haired Skin, her striptease on the edge of ultimate reveal, flickered into nothingness, her virtue intact.
“Better?” The Senator asked, gesturing once again to the empty chair.
The glottal rumble of a throat being cleared forced me to abandon the stare down, and I turned to find the barkeep proffering my drink. Setting the Old Fashioned down on a dirty napkin, he shot me an expectant look. I accepted the bourbon and nodded my thanks.
“It’s on him,” I said, and pointed to the Senator.
“No problem,” the barkeep replied. Then taking a seat on a cushionless stool, he retrieved a well-thumbed paperback from beneath the bar, crossed his legs, and began to read; the world beyond yellowed pages forgotten.
Taking a long pull off the bourbon, pocketing the SD card, I turned my attention back to Senator Duncan. “What’s with the freak show?” I asked, gesturing with my glass towards his two goons.
“Get your ass over here, Driscoll.” The Senator sighed, hand still extended towards the empty chair opposite him, the motion sharp and filled with anger.
Forsaking the tattered padding of the rickety stool, I stood and downed my drink. Then, setting the empty glass on the bar, I strolled across the stained and battered floor, slow and easy. Arriving at ground zero, I collapsed into the blue plastic chair with a sprawling fluid motion, the butt of my .44 jabbing me in the spine. I winced.
“Comfortable?” The Senator asked, a calculating cast in his cold sharkish eyes.
“Fuck you.” I said, adjusting my posture. “Old prison injury.”
“Stow the shit, Driscoll,” The Senator said, upper lip curled in a semi-snarl. “This is business.”
Leaning forward in my chair I grinned my stainless-steel grin—phantom pain crawling though my jaw as more unwanted memories tried to force their way to the surface. Pushing them down I grinned wider, exposing more of the polished steel.
The Senator, his eyes focused on mine, refused to acknowledge the implants, a subtle denial of responsibility that rankled me to the core.
Breaking eye contact, I reached into my jacket and pulled out a crumpled pack of Chinese Marlboro knockoffs. Shaking one free, I drew it out with my lips, then dropped the half empty pack to the table. Producing a lighter from the same pocket, I snapped it open with my thumb and hit the striker. The flame, like my rage, burned liquid and bright.
Inhaling deep and slow, I paused, held my breath, savoring the bitter flavor. Exhaling hard, I blew a dense cloud of dirty white Chinese tobacco smoke directly into the Senator’s smug and wrinkled face.
Coughing violently, the Senator’s chest heaved, and spittle flew from his twitching lips. Fighting back against the convulsions, he motioned frantically at his two goons.
The monstrosities, already in motion, flexed their awkward bulk as they moved in to flank my chair. Botox dead features revealing nothing of what they thought or felt, if anything.
“Don’t fuck with me, Driscoll,” the Senator said between gasps, drool dangling from his weak, pallid chin. “I could clip you right here and now, and you know it.”
The twin grotesques, towering, leaned in for emphasis; their beefy muscles twitching spasmodically beneath their expensive, tailored suits. I rocked back in my chair.
“Alright,” I said, “alright. Call off the dogs.” And I held out my hands, palms up. Then I smiled, all innocence and vestal virtue.
Recovered from his coughing-fit, the Senator shot me a razor-sharp look. A look that promised pain, and dark deeds. Straightening in his chair, the Senator dabbed at his chin with a dingy monogrammed handkerchief.
“You’re walking a fine line my friend,” he said, “don’t push it.”
Stuffing the speckled cloth into his breast pocket, the Senator ran manicured fingers back through his thinning hair, motioned to his monstrosities. Relaxing, the pair backed away, returning to their customary positions behind the Senator’s chair, hovering like Tweedle-doom and Tweedle-death. Assuming he was once again in control, the Senator ran a hateful eye up and down my smiling face, his expression clouded with indecision and a tinge of worry.
“OK, Driscoll,” he said, after a pause, having come to some secret decision. “Let’s make this as painless as possible. I don’t have the time for your games.”
Nodding, I took a quick drag off my smoke, then set it on the edge of the table, exhaled through my nose. Digging my phone out of an inner pocket I checked the time. Two minutes to two.
Snapping his fingers at Tweedle-doom—the monstrosity to my left—the Senator pointed to an adjacent table. Stooping, Tweedle-doom retrieved a small, black neoprene case from the shadows, unzipped one edge, and then removed a thin matte black ultrabook. Dropping the empty case to the floor, he set the laptop down in front the Senator and flipped it open.
“You know that those are illegal, right.” The Senator said, indicating my cigarette with a raised eyebrow, his skeletal hand on the keyboard.
A thin line of smoke trailed up from the smoke’s bright red tip for several feet, then swirled at the peak, forming a soft blue-white haze that hung above our table. I watched it for a long second, its path arrow-straight in the stale air.
“Whatever,” I said, and shrugged. “Let’s get this over with. I don’t like the smell in here.”
The doors of The Droll banged open, pneumatic hinges hissing. A woman entered. Her dark curls wet with rain. Slow and cat-smooth, she snaked her way through the maze of tables towards the bar, black Spandex unitard sheathing her body like a second skin. I watched with amusement as the Senator, his henchman, and the bartender all shifted their focus to the lines of feminine flesh, the business at hand lost to womanly curves.
It’d been eleven years since I’d laid eyes on Rebekah. My last memory her frantic voice on the phone that disastrous night in Prague. The night Senator Duncan gave me up, fucked me over to save his own ass.
Prague, to put it simply, had been a cluster-fuck. We’d started the night in Norfolk, but it ended for me in a Czech prison, the run on AnchorBio blown, scuttled from within by the Senator himself.
Later, lying on my mattress-less bunk, I’d learned the truth. The Senator was facing an ethics probe, and he’d been desperate to clean house. As it stood, I was just collateral damage; one of many infections on the Senator’s body politic that required a quick dose of antibiotics.
But Senator Duncan, the petty bastard, couldn’t leave well enough alone. And in the end, he couldn’t help but send one last parting gift. A final fuck you.
I tongued my upper steel, and watched the Senator watch Rebekah.
In lieu of a stool, she’d leaned against the bar, shifting all her weight to one leg. Eyes soft and stance demure, she was the apotheosis of lust and sex. Bent at the waist, she slid her breasts across the mirrored surface of the counter top, nipples jutting to stiff points. The room lensed down to a single point, no one moved.
“What’s y’er pleasure?” The barkeep asked, thickening his drawl, paperback face down on the bar.
“Ale,” Rebekah whispered, biting her bottom lip. “Pale.”
The only one not caught up in the act, I marveled at the performance. She was as good as I remembered—maybe better. I’d missed her, and that was a hard thing to admit, even to myself. But a decade is long time. I’d moved on, damaged as I was.
“Yes, ma’am,” The barkeep said, his grin exposing a set of dull yellow teeth, “In a flash.”
Judging the moment, I cleared my throat and six of the eight leering eyes peeled themselves from the soft lines of Rebekah’s lithe body to find me staring back at them, watching, chuckling at their open hunger.
Embarrassed, the ceraceous faces of the Senator’s two monstrosities turned a reddish-pink, adjusted the set of their jackets, the positions of their feet; they avoided looking me in the eye. The Senator, unashamed of his desires, stared back, a lustful demonic grin on his too thin lips.
“Are we here to do business, or what?” I asked, metallic smile folding to a scowl.
The Senator, produced a scowl of his own, and snapped his bony fingers. His goons, back to task, stood to attention. Satisfied, Senator Duncan returned his focus to the laptop.
But as time ticked away to the unsteady beat of his inept typing, I caught all of them trying to steal quick glances, attempting to get their fill of Spandex covered tits and ass. Down in the black depth of my hatred, something laughed.
I let the moment stretch.
“You know,” I said, too loudly, drawing the attention of Senator Duncan and his goons. “I was thinking that—”
Vaulting to my feet I reached for the .44, drew it clean and smooth, the flexible plastic chair clattering against the wood planking behind me. Taking a slow step back, I leveled its chrome barrel at the bridge of the Senator’s red drunkard nose, and cocked the hammer.
“What the fuck?” And the low liquid thud of a ceramic mug shattering against the hardwood floor echoed through The Droll.
The twin grotesques, their eyes caught between the dual matchbox muzzles of Rebekah’s derringer and the wide mouth bore of my .44, flexed their unnatural bulk—their perfect placid features twisted with rage and impotent violence.
Basking in their futility, I laughed, howled, adrenalin singing in my blood.
“Do it,” I said.
With a tiny shrug and a sad frown, Rebekah apologized to the barkeep. “Sorry,” she said. Then rearing back, derringer in hand, she slammed the butt against the barkeep’s left temple. Out on impact, the man tumbled to the liquor stained floor, his listless descent punctuated by the wet crack of cranial plates against lacquered wood. Derringer at the ready, Rebekah spun around, twin barrels bearing down on the Senator’s henchmen.
Blood drained from the Senator haughty face and his eyes darted about the Droll.
Unleashed after long years of imprisonment, the fires of vengeance blazed in my chest, and screamed a wordless scream through gritted steel. If I’d still had teeth, they would have shattered.
“I’m disappointed in you, Driscoll,” the Senator said, having recovered from his shock. “Using this little tramp as a distraction, I thought you were a professional. I must have been—”
“Shut your rotten fucking mouth!” I shouted, polished grin mutating into an inhuman sneer. “You slimy little shit, you’re hardly in a position to pass judgment. As for her—” And my eyes darted from the Senator to Rebekah.
Tweedle-doom chose that moment to make his move, lunging for my throat, his hands outstretched.
A shot stung the air and Tweedle-doom’s head snapped back, the roof of his skull obliterated by a hollow point slug. Tumbling, he collapsed to the grimy floor, back against the Vid-Wall, cerebral membrane, blood and hair sliding down its smooth glass surface. Across the bar, pale grey smoke curled from the top barrel of Rebekah’s derringer. The pungent odor of fresh blood and gunpowder engulfed the room.
“You’ll pay for that, you fucking bitch!” The Senator’s face was crimson with fury, and thin old-man hands clutched at the blue arms of his chair.
Not to be outdone, I swiftly took aim at the remaining monstrosity, and fired. And Tweedle-death’s steroid wrought chest exploded, globs of crimson fluid, scraps of Italian fabric, and bits of flesh spattering the right side of Senator Duncan’s face. Taking an unsteady step to the side, Tweedle-death collapsed on an adjacent table. It shattered; shards of mirrored glass skittering about the floor.
Senator Duncan, struck by the abrupt severing of the two neural-links, screamed like a dying beast; the death pangs of his two henchmen flooded his limbic system.
The Vid-Wall, lost in the final throes of its own orgasmic murder, surged with a deluge of freshly spilled blood and semen. The captive young woman, her life draining from multiple incisions in her neck, writhed in sexual bliss. It was an apt backdrop, the lifeblood of the twin grotesques pooled at the base of the Vid-Wall, fusing with the virtual blood of the cinematic barbarism, creating a single frame.
Art imitating life.
I glared down at the Senator. “You’re fucked, my friend.”
Returning her Derringer to its secret resting place between her breasts, Rebekah slinked across the speakeasy, her movements greased. Walking behind me, she slid her fingers across the back of my neck, down my arm and across the table; her hand come to rest on the Senator’s thin, bony shoulder. Leaning in, breast brushing his cheek, she slapped him, coyly, as if it were part of some private sexual game.
Pale, his scorn long vanished, the Senator’s face was a rictus of rage. But his lust—that beastly primal thing—had slipped free of his control, and the crotch of his threadbare slacks bulged.
Rebekah, caught up in the thrill, ran a manicured nail across his lower lip, caressed his cheek and neck.
Overcome with lust and doom, the Senator moaned, shuddered—then exhaled a ragged uneven breath, eyes skittish and unfocused.
“You dirty old wretch,” Rebekah cooed, hands cupping her breasts. “You just got off, didn’t you, you nasty old dog.” She cuffed him on the back of the head, and he moaned. Mussing his hair, Rebekah laughed, soft and girlish.
The twin grotesques dead and the bartender out cold, I returned my .44 to the small of my back, then replaced my snarl with the well-practiced grin. Hands clasped behind my back I began pacing the room, adopting a pensive air, as if mulling over my next move.
Pausing in front of the Senator, I grabbed the glass table and hurled it across the bar, the laptop flipping away into the shadow. Leaning down, I screamed into the Senator’s startled face.
“These,” I said, pointing at the titanium implants. The table crashed to the floor behind me, slivers of mirror tumbling across the room. “Were your doing.” I flashed him a fierce grimace, eyes hot with fury. “And you’re a fool, Senator, to think that you could get away with maiming me, betraying me.”
Lightning-quick, my right fist slammed into his scrawny chest, thumping solid against his sternum. Unable to breath, the Senator doubled over, shook, gagged, his nervous system trapped in a painful feedback loop.
Grinning, I pulled open a small pocket stitched into the back of my left glove. Reaching in, I removed a micro Socket-Drive, held it between my thumb and forefinger. It glinted in the pale blue light of the Vid-Wall, the translucent QuartzData chip at its head a pale ion-blue, the carbon mini-jack at its base a dull, non-reflective grey.
“This, Senator,” I said, holding the Socket-Drive as if it were a precious stone, “is the thing that shall plague you the rest of your days. May they be few and filled with pain.”
Grasping the Senator by his greasy nicotine-yellowed hair, Rebekah slammed him to the blood soaked floor. Twisting, she rolled him onto his side, forced him to watch the grand finale of the silent Brazilian snuff; its digital climax laced with sweat, blood and semen—the black art of sex and death skillfully rendered in a gush of pixel wrought fluids.
Gagging at the sight, the Senator kicked violently, then vomited, frail carcass overwhelmed by the flood of anger, lust and fear. Whimpering, he drooled, coughed into his own sick, mumbled a string of curses, then fell silent.
Kneeling down, careful to avoid the blood, bile and broken glass, I displayed the Socket-Drive, making damn sure the Senator got a good view of the mini-jack. Rebekah, gripping his bony chin in a delicate hand, wrenched his head around, revealing the flesh-colored socket behind his ear—brittle vertebra popping audibly with the strain.
“I ... I.” The senator stammered, his fear palpable. “Be reasonable, Driscoll. I ...”
Staring down into the Senator’s eyes, I allowed no hint of mercy to manifest in my face. Shaking my head, baring my steels, I slotted the Socket-Drive.
The Senator tensed, eyes wide. His mouth opened as if to scream, tongue protruding—but nothing happened. Body going limp, he drew in a ragged breath, tried to lay flat, but Rebekah’s grip on his head and neck forced him to remain as he was.
“Driscoll, look,” he said, pleading. Fear overriding self-respect. “You must understand, I had no choice ... I—”
“Shut-the-fuck-up!” I said. “That building was your target, you self-righteous fuck! I know it was you.”
“Please, Driscoll.” He was whining now. It made me sick.
“No Senator,” I said, “no forgiveness for you. Your fate is in my hands, hands ripe with violence.” And my gloves creaked, black leather stretching over clenched fists.
Something in the Senator’s aura shifted and he closed his eyes. Took a deep breath. Then, he let it out, slow and halting. When he opened them again, he was staring at the floor, tears welling, a quiver running through his bottom lip.
The sight of the mighty Senator Duncan cowed, his will shredded and broken, face leaking tears, filled me with a cold, sweet and infinite joy.
“Check the case.” I said.
Standing, Rebekah stuck the tip of her boot under the Senator’s chin, slid it along his check, pushed his face to the floor; then she set about searching the filth-spattered room for the briefcase.
Kicking over the headless corpse that lay against the Vid-Wall, she found it. Its bright metal surface smeared with gore. Grabbing it by the handle, she slapped it down on an adjacent table, thumbed the latches, and popped the case open.
Five one-liter plastic bags filled with prepaid bankcards stared back at her.
“Is it all there?” I asked, eyes locked on the Senator.
“Yeah,” she said, “looks like it.” And she slammed the case shut. “We’re out.”
“Not so fast,” I said. “Got some unfinished business.” And I stood, looming over the Senator’s prone form, my countenance cold—cold as the Russian iron used to forge the bars of my prison cell, cold as my vengeance. “Soon, Senator,” I continued. “It’ll be just a few more seconds, and the virus will finish installing.”
“No, Driscoll, wait!” The Senator cried, his voice small, devoid of its usual command. “The genetic program, please Driscoll. I need something to show my handlers. Don’t leave me like this. Please.”
Reaching into my jacket, I retrieved the Micro-SD card. “The blast sequence,” I said, and dropped it to the blood soaked floor.
“This will never work, Driscoll. You know you can’t penetrate the Secret Service’s med-software in my head. Don’t be a fool. I’m—”
I laughed. “No Senator,” I said. “You’re the fool.” And I stepped back a single stride. “That anti-virus is obsolete. When was the last time your definitions were updated, haw? When was your last upgrade? You are vulnerable, Senator. And besides, the Psi have ways of dealing with obsolete software.”
I kicked him in the gut and he curled into a ball, lips pulled back from yellow teeth, but he didn’t scream.
“It is written,” I said, “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. I’d say it’s been a pleasure, but that would be a lie.
“Reaching behind my back I redrew the .44, located the Senator’s laptop amidst the wreckage, and put a frag-shell through its case. Shards of black plastic leapt into the air as the thing shattered, tumbled across the blood-spattered floor, and was lost.
“Fuck you, Driscoll.” The Senator grunted. “You’ll pay for this. I promise you.”
“Now ...” I said, ignoring his threats. Bending down, I plucked the Socket-Drive from his neck. “... I must take my leave.”
Turning on my heels, I followed Rebekah through the grid of tables to the old red door, a hand resting on the small of her back. Halting in the makeshift foyer, I turned back to the Senator one last time.
“Alistair,” I said, and the huddled lump that was Senator Alistair Duncan twitched, curled up like a discarded fetus. “Do me one last favor. Remember what the Dormouse said.”
Stricken, the Senator’s body locked, went rigid, tendons standing out on his neck and hands, eyes frozen in mute agony as the self-extracting archive attacked his hippocampus.
His jaw cracked open ...
After forty replications, the bug would re-archive, lie dormant for a random amount of time, then reactivate. Attacking his mind again and again; it was a recurring digital plague that he would never be free of. It was a nasty and beautiful thing.
Without another word or look back, I took the case from Rebekah and left the Senator to his new life—a life that would be filled with random seizures and memory loss.
Howling in pain, the Senator’s ragged screams echoed through The Droll, followed me out the doors, and across the crumbling asphalt lot that fronted the old speakeasy.
It was the perfect song for a perfect night.
Seth W. Kennedy
Ventura Ca, 2013