Monthly Archives: December 2013

The Double Cross, Pt. 2

I return! Now let’s see if I can get this wrapped up be before year’s end…

Patrick Rourke sat across from me, leaning back against the plush booth of the diner. He was sitting with his hands folded on the table, an untouched mug of coffee in front of them. I sat on the other side of the booth, a mug between my own hands. I stared down into the inky black surface, imagined I could see my face staring back at me. I couldn’t of course. But it would have been a nice image, like something out of a book, or a movie. “So, which one of us is going to crack and talk first, huh?”

“I guess that would be you,” Rourke said.

“Fine, I’ll bite. Why’d you spring me? Don’t you know I murdered your old man?”

Rourke stared at me coolly. “No, you didn’t.”

“Sure I did. Cops kicked open your front door and found me in the bedroom with a gun in my hand and Rourke the Elder flat on the floor. Maybe I didn’t put a bullet in him, but they say I scared him half to death.” Despite myself, I grinned. “Then a bit more, I guess.” What the hell was wrong with me? This guy had gotten me out of prison, and here I was mocking him. What little I knew of Patrick Rourke told me he didn’t have much of a sense of humor. If I pissed him off, he’d send me right back to the cell I’d come from.

Or else kill me on the spot. He was so rich and I was so nothing that he probably wouldn’t even get in that much trouble for it. I could see the headlines now. VICIOUS KILLER SHOT DEAD BY GRIEVING SON. Something like that but with a little more punch to it.

Sure enough, Rourke leaned forward and frowned, his lips pressed together in a line so thin you’d think someone had carved it into his face. “Don’t play stupid, Detective. I know it was the bitch’s idea. But I don’t think you were in on it. I think she was playing you for a patsy, and you’ve got just enough hero in you that you charged right into it.” He leaned back, folded his hands again. “Or else you’re just an imbecile.” He paused for a moment before reaching into his jacket for a smoke. “Or more likely, it’s both.”

“You’re a real flatterer, Mr. Rourke.”

“What I am, Detective, is direct.” He took a long draw on his cigarette, exhaled, slowly. “My father was a bitter old man whom married a showgirl whore instead of dying with dignity and grace.” Rourke leaned forward and tapped his fingers forcefully against the diner tabletop. I imagined that this was the dignified and graceful equivalent of slamming one’s fist down. “That girl is so far beneath my family that it’s like something out of Dickens. A street rat. And Italian, to boot! A Catholic! Can you believe that? A Catholic in the Rourke family?”

“Isn’t ‘Rourke’ kind of an Irish name, anyway?” I asked after it became clear he expected some kind of a response from me.

His nostrils flared. For a second I thought he might reach across the table and slap me. I smiled, partially to play up the idea that I was dumber than him (which I’m not. Less educated, certainly, but not less intelligent) and partially because I was genuinely pleased to see the blue-blooded bastard’s air of rich superiority dissolve for a moment and a recognizable human emotion take its place.

“Do you hear an ‘O’ in front of it, Detective?” he said once he’d regained his composure. “Besides, there’s all the difference in the world between a good English name like Rourke and that Italian nonsense. ‘Di Campani.’ Ugh. Practically savage.” Rourke shook his head, like there was some kind of niggling insect he was trying to shoo away. Probably it was me. “This is beside the point. No more interruptions.” He cleared his throat. “That woman killed my father, and now she’s going to get my inheritance. I won’t stand for that.”

I let my eyes begin to wander around the diner. We were the only ones in our corner, and Rourke was doing a good job of keeping his voice low, but this was hardly a private setting for whatever clandestine scheme he was trying to hatch. “What exactly are you getting at, Mr. Rourke?” His eyes met mine, and I smiled that dumb, hapless smile again. “Please, fill me in. Directly.”

“I want Elizabeth removed from the picture.”

I stood up. “I’m not a hatchet man, Mr. Rourke.”

He snorted and waved dismissively at me. “Sit down, Detective. Of course you aren’t. But I don’t want to see her dead. I want to see her rotting in a prison. That will require evidence. That’s where you come in.”

“And if I don’t help you, I’m going to find myself back in a cell awaiting trial for murder, is that it?”

Rourke smiled. “Very good. You understand the gravity of your situation, and you have something motivating you beyond mere avarice.” Rourke stood up then, stepped into the aisle between the various dining tables, and put on his hat. “Benjamin will be your point of contact with me when necessary. Can’t have you meeting up with me arousing undue suspicion, don’t you think?” Rourke paused for a moment, frowned as some errant thought skittered through his head. “You remember Benjamin, don’t you? Our Negro friend? Or were you too liquored up on the job to bother learning his name? Well, no matter. Good day, Sir. Don’t disappoint.”

Rourke walked away, leaving me alone at the table, and with the bill for our coffee, the cheap bastard. But the thought of paying was far from my head, as were Rourke and Elizabeth and all the rest. Right then, I just wanted a decent meal, a warm bed, and a bottle of whiskey, and I didn’t much care what order I got them in.

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The Double Cross, Pt. 1

Despite myself, I fell asleep in the pen. The weight of helping Michael O’Sullivan rob Henry Rourke and then being woken up by the old man’s’ wife, Elizabeth, and framed for his murder had proved to be too much for my poor little eyelids to handle. I fell asleep on the foul-smelling, stained bench in the holding cell, the only other individual to keep me company a dirty-skinned, ratty-haired drunk who’d pissed himself and passed out in a corner. God only knew in what order.

It wasn’t the worst place I’d ever fallen asleep or woken up in, but it was damn close. My sleep was fitful, my head full of nonsensical dreams of strangling that bitch Elizabeth, of Vincent Campbell putting a bullet in my brain, of Michael O’Sullivan turning me into ground beef with his oversized fists. Again, unpleasant, but not the worst I’d ever had.

At least no one was screaming as they burned to death.

I woke up when the February morning sun began to poke through the window at the end of the hallway. It was brighter than the dim bulbs that lit the cells, warmer. Impossible to ignore. I thought, “Christ, a decent night’s sleep on a real bed, that’s all I ask. When I was the last time I got that?” I couldn’t think of an answer, partially because I was still half-asleep and partially because I truly had no idea. That irritated me enough that I woke up the rest of the way.

I sat up on the bench and sighed. My drunk roommate was still out cold, snorting and muttering and rolling around like an old dog. It’d be funny in a way, if I wasn’t preoccupied by thoughts of spending the rest of my life behind bars for the murder of Henry Rourke. I mean, I hadn’t murdered the old man. And if nothing else, Rourke’s body didn’t have any bullet holes or anything like that. The most likely thing that could be “proved” would be that I’d busted into the house and the old man had dropped from a heart attack. But then, the district attorney could probably get playful with that. Or some of Vincent Campbell’s men, crooked cops in the pocket of a former movie star turned mobster, could play fast and loose with the evidence or with witness testimony.

I shook my head and lay back down on the bench, my arm draped over my eyes to block out the sun. “How’s one man get so screwed?” I muttered out loud.

Elizabeth Rourke. Last time I take a case from a dame that looks like that.

I fell asleep again. Sometime later I was woken up by the sound of boots echoing off the walls of the hallway. “Maybe they’re going to formally charge me with something,” I thought. I shifted my arm and opened my eyes just a sliver to look at the cop standing in front of the cell door. He was an older man, his face lined from long years on the force, his mustache flecked with gray. We said nothing to each other, and after a few moments, he pulled out a ring of keys and unlocked the door.

“Get up,” he said. “Your bail’s been posted.”

I sat up on the bench and eyed the cop suspiciously. “Posted? By who?”

The cop didn’t say another word. He just turned and left, and as he did so, another figure stepped into the room. A man in his thirties, dressed sharp as Hell in a dark overcoat, a grey suit and a grey hat. He had a hard face, strong and cold as granite. The face of old money. A face like his dead father’s.

“Hello, Detective,” Patrick Rourke said, eying me like I was some kind of insect. “Let’s talk.”


Random Writing Prompt 13: Next Item

So, about Friday. I’ll spare the details, but upon getting home, I found myself extremely cold, soaked through due to being caught walking in a sudden downpour, and profoundly grumpy. I actually completely forgot about posting until this morning, at which point I realized I began the story I intended to run but never finished it. Anyway, here it is!

The website io9.com posts a piece of concept art every Saturday challenging its viewers to write a piece of flash fiction based on that art. In the past, I would choose a piece at random, but this time I just picked one that appealed to me. Exciting, no?

This piece is entitled “Next Item,” inspired by the painting “Roundtable Office Meeting” by Chenthooran Nambiarooran (which was, in turn, produced for Vitaly Alexius’s webcomic “Romantically Apocalyptic.” Man, I hope I’m getting these credits right…) I don’t own this image, I claim no rights to this image, and should either Chenthooran or Vitaly stumble across this post and demand that the image be removed, I will gladly do so. Also, you should go check out Chenthooran’s work at http://mythrilgolem1.deviantart.com/, Vitaly’s work at http://alexiuss.deviantart.com/, and Vitaly’s webcomic at http://romanticallyapocalyptic.com/.

Let’s begin! Continue reading


Unfated, Pt. 2

The other monks stood helpless, gaping at the smoke that still trailed from the shell of their monastery, their eyes refusing to lower enough to see the charred and bloody corpses that littered the ground. But Belphas’s sharp eyes saw movement amongst the ruins, and he left the others behind as he rushed forward to investigate.

A single burnt hand reached out from between smoldering ruins, and a voice croaked out, “Please, help.” Belphas knelt and took the fallen beams in his hands and threw them off the trapped brother. The other monks had caught up to him by then, and they gasped in fear at the mortal wounds of the man before them. “Brothers… Duke Reinhold’s men. They came in the night… Posed as beggars… We let them in… They opened the gates… Stormed the monastery… You are all that’s left.”

The dying man’s eyes burned with fire and forced himself up, groaning in agony as he did so. “Belphas. Under the wine cellar, there’s a hidden chamber. Armor inside. Sword and shield. No one’s taken them up in a thousand years. You are our champion, now. You… Are…”

The man died. Without a word, Belphas marched towards the burnt out cellar, and he began tearing through the ruins with his burnt hands. For three hours he dug unassisted by the others until at last his hands grasped an ancient brass ring buried in the earth. A trapdoor swung open, and Belphas descended into darkness. When he returned, the other monks dropped to their knees, for his armor and his sword shined like silver, like the champion of legend.

Belphas cut a bloody swath through the lands of Duke Reinhold. He found other warriors, like-minded men and women who had grown tired of the Duke’s oppression, calculating mercenaries who lusted after power, after gold, and he recruited them to his cause. No matter their motivations, Belphas united them, and his army seized the Duke’s holdings one by one. Many lives were lost, and Belphas’s closest allies fell in battle, but he pressed on, confident in his armor, his sword, his destiny.

At last, Belphas came to the Duke’s castle. He entered alone, his army battling the foreign mercenaries the Duke had hired. He slipped past what guards he could, slew those necessary, and he tried not to think of the rumors he had heard about Reinhold. They said that the man was a warlock who used dark magic to extend his life unnaturally, to summon demons from other worlds to serve him.

“He is a man,” Belphas whispered to himself. “Whatever else, he is a man. Steel has slain thousands of men, and it will slay thousands more.”

Reinhold’s personal guards fell before Belpha’s blade, and as he stood before the Duke’s door, he thought of the Sisters, the Brothers, the fallen, those who yet lived. “This is for you,” he whispered. “All of you.” He lifted an armored boot, and with preternatural strength, he kicked the reinforced wood door of its hinges.

“Reinhold!” Belphas bellowed. “Justice has come for you, Reinhold!”

The Duke was a thin man, with a healthy glow to his skin and only the faintest of grey at his temples, but his eyes were sunken. They burned like embers in a pit, smoldering with malicious humor. “We meet at last, Belphas. Belphas, son of the whore Tanya and the high priest Edward. Servant to the Sisters of the Open Palm and champion of the Brotherhood of Steel. Lover to the Lady Nightingale and leader of the Three Armies. Oh, the void has told me much about you, Belphas.”

The young man’s eyes narrowed to slits. “Did the void tell you that I’m here to kill you?”

A smile crept across the Duke’s thin lips. “It did, in fact. Yuri, if you please.”

Thunder echoed in the chamber, once, twice, three times. Fire roared across Belpha’s chest, and he looked down, stunned, in agony, to find blood pouring from three neat circles that had been punched in the center of that legendary armor of his. Heavy footsteps echoed through the chamber, and he looked up to see a figure out of nightmares.

It looked like a man, but it couldn’t have been. It’s face was darkened by tattoos and pierced by metal, but it’s eyes glowed as red as candlelight through a ruby lens. It held some strange object in its hand, like a sword’s hilt without a blade. It wore no armor, and worst of all, its form seemed to blur, to melt and recombine before his very eyes. It was as if his brain couldn’t process what it was seeing. It was as if the figure were an abomination that had no place in Belphas’s world. It was as if the world knew this, and it was trying desperately to reject the thing.

“Demon,” Belphas croaked.

“No, drug. D’yavol,” it replied.

It was the last thing Belphas heard before he died.

* * *

“These heroes are becoming more common,” Reinhold muttered. He stood atop the parapets of his castle and watched the battle below him. Belphas’s army was routing, as the young man must have known would happen. Doubtless he’d been counting on the mercenaries to throw down their swords and surrender once they learned that the duke paying him.

“They are,” Yuri agreed, “but so long as you have gold, I will stop them. Now, pay me and send me home, shef.”

Reinhold took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He had killed men for less insolence than that, but he did not dare lash out against Yuri. Yuri was not governed by the same fundamental laws that a man like Belphas and even the Duke himself were. He came from a world that Reinhold couldn’t hope to understand, one without lords and ladies, without heroes and villains. He imagined a world full of beings like Yuri, with their glowing red eyes and their alien tongues and their weapons that may as well have been magic for how destructive they could be. A world where power came solely from wealth and from information. A world without destiny or fate.

Reinhold shuttered. He turned and tossed a pouch filled with gold coins to the shifting blur before him. Yuri caught the bag in midair, opened it, considered a coin, and nodded. “Looks good. Alright, then. Be seeing you, shef.

“Gods forbid,” he muttered once the stranger was gone, returned to wherever he came from. But even then, Duke Reinhold could sense the threads of fate entwining around him once again, and he knew it would not be long before another champion was chosen, one destined to overthrow him, and he would have need of the unfated once more.

In my haste to get this live last night/this morning, I neglected to mention that this is the end of the story. Ta-da! As always, thank you for reading, and you can expect a new piece of flash fiction on Friday and the beginning of something longer next Monday.


Unfated, Pt. 1

I’m back, baby.

Belphas was born to be a hero.

He was a bastard child born to a teenage girl too simple to understand the hardships that would come from raising a baby a whorehouse. But the madam understood them well enough, and she convinced the girl to give the baby into her keeping. “We’ll leave it on the doorsteps of a convent,” she had told the girl, “and they’ll raise the child up happy and healthy and you may visit him anytime you like.” The girl accepted this, and the madam took the baby from her, and she wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and she put him in a sack to drown like an unwanted puppy.

As the madam stepped out under the night sky, the whimpering bundle in her arms, and the city’s river a short walk way, she looked up and saw a shooting star. And then another, and another after that. She stopped in her tracks, turned around, and began the long walk to the convent. Three was a number of luck, of power, of the gods, and a child born under the sign of the Three burning in the heavens was no ordinary child. The sisters at the convent accepted the child graciously, and they named him Belphas after the angel who brought light to the world and burned away the shadows.

Belphas grew up tall and strong under the watchful eyes of the sisters. He worked their gardens. He journeyed into the city and carried goods back from the market. He herded their animals. And when an aged traveler came to the convent seeking a home to spend his final days, Belphas learned the art of sword and shield. The sisters saw that the boy’s strength and size gave him a preternatural skill with the blade and they made the decision that his place was no longer in their convent. On his thirteenth birthday, the sisters gave the child a pack of supplies and the sword and shield the old man had left him, and they sent him to join a monastery far to the west where the brothers hoped to achieve spiritual enlightenment through physical training.

The journey took nearly a month, and by the time Belphas reached the monastery his supplies were gone and he had grown thin from his travels. The great walls stood before him, and two sentries, lean and muscular looked down on him and snorted. “What brings you to our home, urchin?” they asked.

Belphas told them that the Sisters of the Open Palm had sent him to learn their ways, and the men laughed aloud. Three times they turned him away, and three times Belphas stood at their gates until the changing of the guards to demand entry once more. On the third time they let him in, and they took his belongings from him, and they made him melt down his sword at their smithy. “The person that you were is gone,” they told him, “like this child’s blade. And like it, you too shall be reforged into something greater.”

The brothers worked Belphas mercilessly. He toiled in the fields. He sweated in the smithy. He and the other initiates sparred with staff and sword. They trained with bows until their fingers bled. Belphas went to bed sore and aching, but in time the pain left and his body and his will became as hard as the iron he wielded every day. Even as the youngest of the initiates, he was far and away the most skilled.

When Belphas turned eighteen, the brothers announced that he was finally old enough and skilled enough to represent the monastery in a tournament thrown by the lord of a distant land. It was the greatest honor of his young life, and so Belphas and four other monks set forth to enter into the melee and win what glory they could for the Brotherhood of Steel. Fifty warriors entered the melee, mercenaries and knights and wandering swordsmen who fit into no proper categories. The Brothers bested them all, with two of their number left standing at the end of the tournament and Belphas having beaten twelve men into submission on his own. That night they drank ale and they bedded the local girls and they left with their stomachs full of fine food and a song in their hearts.

They returned to the monastery to find a burnt husk awaiting them.


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