The Cadillac’s high beams cut through the black air just below the bridge leading out of town. It was a cold night, and fog hung low and heavy like smoke in a small room.
Other than the Caddy and black limo the area under the bridge was empty, save for a few junkies. They hovered over barrels filled with fire and drank bottles of fortified wine. Lukewarm Night Train. Condoms and used needles were strewn about their feet.
The Mayor watched the Cadillac approach, cleared his throat. “They’re early,” he said. He had to get in character so the assholes couldn’t push him. He placed his stubby hand on the girl’s thigh. She tensed but did not whimper, like before.
“Now, darling,” he said, watching her face dispassionately, “when these people pull up, you just keep quiet and look pretty. Pretend like I’ve been treating you well the last few days. It’s just business. Your brother gives me my money and we’re even. He can have you back.”
The girl, whose body shivered under his hand, managed a halfhearted nod. The mayor drank his scotch and soda. He cackled and handed the glass to a wad of muscle in a painted-on tee. The man unscrewed the bottle on the left armrest and poured another drink.
“Gotta love a limo, don’t you?” He leaned back and slid a hand up to her knee, revealing a diamond watch that did not match his outfit. Sort of thing a man does to show off.
The Caddy stopped and the mayor made a motion with his free hand, the watch hand. The bodyguard pressed a button, and the window disappeared into the door. The mayor cleared his throat once more, waiting. A sliver of cold wind cut through the limo, causing an army of goose bumps to appear on the girl’s leg.
After a few moments, the rear window in the other car, the Cadillac, sluggishly receded and a thin, greasy man pushed his head through the gap and smiled.
“Mister Mayor,” he said. “Shall we resolve this matter amicably?” His accent was nondescript, neither harsh nor characterizing. Sounded like a weatherman’s voice.
The man nodded. “Would you like to join us in our car?”
The mayor leaned back and mouthed something to the expressionless guard. He looked perturbed. When he sat forward again, he saw the thin man had produced a briefcase and was hanging it out of the car window, like a toy above a baby’s carriage.
“Forgive me, Hessino. I don’t think that’s the best idea.”
“Fair enough, Mister Mayor. I believe we can arrange that, seeing as you have my little sister there in the limo with you. Shall I come alone, or may I bring a friend?” The breeze picked up outside, causing the briefcase to tap against the side of the car.
“Why don’t we exchange stuff and get the hell out of here? The hobos are starting to stare.”
Hessino averted his gaze and chuckled. “They are merely citizens you created from the cold way you run your city, that’s all. They are my people, not yours. One moment.” He slid the briefcase through the window and his face disappeared inside the car. “Goddamnit,” the mayor said. He was beginning to get a little bit perturbed with Hessino’s games. He didn’t know where this was going. What was with the fucking jokes?
Moments passed. The thin, well-coiffed man emerged from the Cadillac with the briefcase in one hand. He swung it carelessly at his side as he approached the limousine. The mayor motioned to his bodyguard, who slipped out to meet Hessino halfway.
Hessino stopped, raising his arms incredulously. “Just procedure,” the mayor said. “No problem. No problem at all. It’s what I pay Jonesy for.”
The bodyguard checked him for weapons. Nothing. As the two approached the limo, the mayor whistled loudly and Jonesy lunged for the briefcase. Hessino was too quick. He pulled the black container from the big man’s grasp and took two swift steps backward. The bodyguard fell clumsily to the ground, grunting as his elbows made contact with the hard concrete.
Hessino pulled a small caliber revolver from behind him, as if by magic, and unceremoniously shot Jonesy in the back of his head. Blood spurted from the crude hole it created. Two junkies by the fire barrels cried out but managed to hang on to the bottles of Night Train. Hessino, smiling like before, replaced the pistol and continued toward the car. The mayor reached out in a frantic attempt to push the lock on the armrest, but he was too late. Hessino had the door open by then.
“Let’s not get hasty,” he said, pressing the window up button. He waited for the window to make the zhuj sound before continuing. “We can still do business. I don’t mind.” He turned to the girl. “Hello, sister.”
She smiled uneasily, though the duct tape concealed it. Hessino placed the small briefcase between himself and the mayor and tapped his long, bony fingers on top of it.
“Now, I will not hold your little stunt against you. That is not why I am here.” He talked without looking at anyone. The mayor clasped his fingers into a ball and waited for Hessino, his eyes occasionally drifting down to the case.
“Forgive me, I’m trying to calm down. That thing back there,” Hessino tapped of his index finger on the window, “was intense. Would you like the money now?”
The mayor poked his bottom lip out and crinkled his face. “Of course I would like the goddamn money. I would fucking love it, thank you very much. That’s why I’m here.” He glanced at the briefcase, wishing it open. Hessino ran his fingers along the corners, as though comforting it.
“My sister.” Hessino opened his mouth wide and the jaw cracked. The mayor tugged at a small loose spot and the tape gave, revealing two thick, red lips.
“Tina, you’re all right,” he said. “Right?”
“They didn’t hurt me,” she replied. She licked her lips, cracked and dried, and nodded again. She, too, seemed fixated on the briefcase. Hessino grabbed the case with both hands and flipped it over, so the latches faced upright.
“I’m sure. I want to go home. Now.”
Hessino opened the door handle and pushed himself back in the seat, to allow Tina room to slide past. “Sis, why don’t you wait outside for us to finish up business?”
“Wait a sec,” the mayor said. “I haven’t even seen the money-“
He stopped. Hessino cut his eyes sternly at the mayor, who realized his folly. He sighed, shaking his head like a man bargaining for a reasonable price on a used car. He seemed to mumble for a moment before looking squarely at Hessino.
“You win. Nothing I can do. I have to trust you have the money.”
Hessino’s eyes lit up. “I guess you do, old man. Or you could consult your colleague. Oh wait.” He laughed and ran his left hand through a particularly unkempt section of hair. The mayor’s eyes darted toward Jonesy, lifeless and oddly-positioned outside.
Tina slid by her brother. Through the open door, the homeless men could be heard, laughing about nothing in particular. She managed to get out without slipping and stood out into the cold, holding her skinny arms with her hands.
“Hurry. I’m ready to go and its cold.”
Hessino shooed her and tilted his head back to laugh as he closed the door. “Siblings,” he said. “They never stop trying your patience, you know?”
The mayor twiddled two fingers in the ball that made up his hands. He rocked back and forth, waiting. Seemed to be the theme of the evening. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. He’d wanted to take control, to show the thugs he wouldn’t put up with nonsense. They were beggars, nobodies. He had been wrong about that. Terribly, absolutely, appallingly wrong. His number had been called and he didn’t want to test Hessino. Jonesy had the gun. Well, and Hessino, of course. But fat lot of good it did for Hessino to have the gun.
“Don’t worry. I’m not going to shoot you. It would be too easy, and I am not a completely vengeful man.” He leaned in close. “Though you don’t deserve it, you are going to get what is in this briefcase.” He slapped it with his palm. His face became grave as he flipped the first latch. “Now, you know that by taking this, you are going to leave my family alone. Correct?”
“Now, Tina is just a hooker, but she is my sister, and I want you to promise you are done terrorizing poor families.”
At this, the mayor stopped rocking. “Your family is not poor. That case is full of money and I’m sure you had no problem getting your hands on it.”
“Ah, the briefcase.” He seemed to ignore the insult. “Yes, let’s get to it.”
Hessino flipped the second latch and looked up. The mayor glared at the rectangle box anxiously, like he was trying to open it with his mind.
On seeing the inner contents, the mayor cried out in a combination of fear and anger.
Inside was a small creature – the size of an action figure – that looked alien in a way the mayor couldn’t describe. It had skinny legs and arms and each of the three fingers and toes had sharp claws jutting oddly out. A layer of fur covered its body to the neck and two large ears protruded from a very bald head.
It was sleeping.
“That’s not my money! That’s not my money, you bum!” He beat one fist against the car and sneered at the figure. “I don’t even know what this is! What the fuck is it?”
“Shhh.” Hessino pressed a finger against his lips. “You might wake it.”
“I don’t care. I don’t even know what it is!” He reached for the briefcase but the tall thin man pulled it back, just as he had with Jonesy. He rested the case on his knee and pulled his gun with the other.
“It came from your sewers, Mister Mayor, and I wanted you to have it back.” He lowered his head, stopping just an inch from the sleeping monster. The mayor gasped when its eyes opened. “A lot of money went into buying, er, him and I had to see how you liked it. Don’t you think it’s fair, my ratty sister for your ratty creation?”
The small thing sat up and peered around, its red eyes focusing finally on the mayor. The mayor, in turn, made a low gurgling sound in his throat as the creature leaped out of the briefcase and landed on Hessino’s kneecap. It spun around twice and lowered itself onto all fours, as if to pounce.
“That thing’s alive!” The mayor backed into one corner of the limo and yanked at the door handle, all while keeping his eyes fixed on the creature.
“Very much so. He’s one of several that have helped to clean up the city, at least the parts I feel are lacking or corrupt. I believe Chuck’s little brother has already met the police chief. Am I wrong?” Dick Verner had been found not far from the bridge. Most people thought hungry rats had done damage to his already mangled body.
“I don’t know. I don’t know!” With this, he began to sob and incoherently plea for his life. He reached out to clutch at Hessino, and his hand was promptly swatted away. “I don’t deserve this,” he whined.
“Ah, little Chuck here – that’s what I call it – doesn’t seem to like sudden movements like that, so I would attempt to be as still as possible.” The mayor shook his head violently, as if being asked a question, and pulled the door handle even harder. Beads of sweat dripped from his large nose, though they could have been tears.
“Please,” he screamed. “Please help me.”
Chuck tensed up, spread out the small claws on its front quarters. With one swift move, he jumped forward and jammed his tiny digits into the mayor’s neck. The mayor reared back, slamming his head into the back glass, and began to shake like a cheap motel bed. The gurgling in his throat had become a dissonant hacking, the sound a man makes when trying to clear phlegm. His feet banged against the seat and the eyes rolled up behind lids struggling to stay closed.
Hessino could not contain himself. He snickered, holding his hand politely over his mouth, though it didn’t matter at that point. His laughter could not be heard above the mayor’s choking.
Chuck plucked his nails from the throat and climbed up the mayor’s chin. Tiny streams of blood, no bigger than lines on a pinstripe suit, ran down his throat and disappeared behind the shirt’s collar. He pulled open the mayor’s lips and pushed inside. Small hairs from Chuck’s back protruded from the mayor’s mouth. His convulsions slowed, looking more like cold shivers than anything else, and then stopped.
Satisfied, Hessino snapped the briefcase shut and slipped out of the limo, careful not to step on the bodyguard’s mangled head.
Tina kissed her brother on the cheek. Hessino said, “Come on, sis. We got more work to do.”
The mayor’s guys would be showing up soon. They would need answers. They wouldn’t get many. With a day’s head start, little Chuck would have the old man’s bones picked clean by noon and be hungry again by sundown.
And, since he couldn’t open doors, he would be waiting.