Thursday, September 3, 2009

Terror Bytes

Our first excerpt comes from author William Ollie. It's from his upcoming December 2009 release from Cargo Cult Press of THE MOUNTAIN

She ran giggling through the woods, happy to have gotten away. But it wasn’t much of a trick, not really. She’d planned it as soon as she landed in a heap on the bowls and silverware that had been swept off the table when Mark slung her across it. She was just sorry that other bitch hadn’t been behind her, the one who had stuck her with the fork and threatened to feed her eyeball to her. It didn’t matter though, not now it didn’t. None of them were going to make it off the mountain tonight. Not with what she was about to do.
There were several entrances to the caves, all of them leading to a series of dark passageways, many of which ended down in the pit. And Dolly knew every nook and cranny of each and every one of them. She didn’t need light to find her way around—she’d been in and out of those long and winding tunnels as far back as she could remember, visiting Granny, hiding in the shadows while Willem and Lewis and Arley dragged somebody kicking and screaming into the caves. Watching what they did to some of those outsiders made her glad she wasn’t one. She sure would have hated to end up like that, the way Mark and Eddie and that mean bitch Tina was going to end up: down in the dark with the Shadows ripping them to shreds. So maybe it was a good thing she had stabbed the other girl; that way she wouldn’t have to find herself down there with the shadow-people. Dolly was sure she wouldn’t have wanted that to happen. Dolly wouldn’t have wanted it to happen to her.
She stopped and turned and looked up the footpath. The fog was so thick she couldn’t see very far, so she just stood quietly, listening. She had expected them to chase after her, especially after she stabbed that girl, but they must not have because she would’ve heard them by now—talking or shouting, crashing through the underbrush or… something. But no one was following her, she was sure of it.
She grabbed the thin trunk of a tree, pulling herself up the hill as she leaned forward. Legs pumping and feet digging into the dirt, she kept going, until finally she had stopped again, fifteen yards or so above the footpath.
The fog was thick, but it didn’t stop her from locating the entrance she’d been searching for. She’d wanted them to chase her, not because she thought they could catch up to her—huh uh. No way. She knew they couldn’t do that. She wanted to run them around in circles and leave them wondering where the heck she had gotten off to. Which would’ve been up here, giggling and sliding into a hole much too narrow for a grownup to fit into. And she would have called out to them, too, just so they could see her scramble away, and then claw and scratch their way up after her, only to find her laughing at them on the other side of an entrance they could only reach an arm through.
And God help them if they did that.
Dolly couldn’t help giggling to herself as she dropped into the hole, her feet and hands finding every jutting rock as if they were a ladder she herself had built. She scaled the wall, down to the floor, and then took off along the long, dark corridor. Anyone else would have kept going until the tunnel dead ended into a solid wall of rock. But not Dolly—she knew better. A little ways down, she ran her left hand along the rough-hewn wall. When the wall dropped away she turned into the opening. She quickly found the wall lining this tunnel, and then skipped along until it too dropped away. Then she was standing in the opening, staring up at a faint yellow glow that she knew would lead her up to the pit.
At the top of the tunnel, she saw Lewis leaning over a girl with blood all over her pants, stroking a hand across her long blonde hair. He didn’t see Dolly. He didn’t hear her either, because Granny and the Others were calling up to him. But that was okay with Dolly. She wasn’t here to see him anyway. She took off to her left, past arms and legs and hunks of meat, and two heads on a rock that seemed to be watching her run by them… down into another tunnel that led to Granny and the rest of her kin.
Halfway down the corridor, a big metal key hung by a leather bootlace on a hook that was embedded into the wall. Anybody else would’ve run right by it. But not Dolly. Dolly knew where everything was down here. She ran by the hook and grabbed the key, and kept on running until she reached the rusty old gate that kept Granny and the Others from leaving the pit. Arley and Lewis said they weren’t allowed to leave it. That’s what Willem said, too. But Elbert didn’t like keeping them down here—he’d told her that himself. And this was an emergency, wasn’t it? Why sure it was—a bunch of outsiders were fixing to hightail it to town to make trouble for the rest of them.
Not if Dolly could help it, they weren’t.
And Dolly could help it.
She fit the key into the lock that held the gate in place, turned the key and the lock popped open. She could still hear the voices calling out from the pit, echoing through the cave behind her as she lifted the lock away and dropped it to the ground. The rusty hinges squalled when she tugged on the gate. When it finally opened, she stepped further into the darkness, and yelled, “GRANNY! COME QUICK!”
In the darkness in front of her, someone said, “The gate’s open.”
Further away, someone else called out, “The gate’s open!”
From deep within the pit, somebody screamed, “THE GATE’S OPEN!”
Dolly took a backward step. She could hear them coming, screaming and shouting and calling out, “THE GATE’S OPEN! THE GATE’S OPEN!”
A webbed hand that looked more like a dolphin’s flipper touched her arm. It was soft and clammy and slippery-wet. A face appeared in the darkness, attached to a body that was slithering through the dirt like a snake. A second figure came crab-walking across the floor behind it. Seconds later, she was swept up in a mass of deformity, a swirling sea of human depravity that carried her away from the gate and up toward the flickering yellow glow at the apex of the tunnel.

From the backcover:

To Eddie Marshall, the idea seemed ridiculous: hitchhike to the mountains of North Carolina to help his lifelong pal haul a truck load of Christmas trees out to Louisiana.
But Mark Rockley had a way of making the ridiculous seem perfectly reasonable. And what did Eddie have to lose anyway? At least up here he could take his mind off crooked managers and bickering band-mates, and the conniving woman he’d left behind.
Had he known what happened to Harold and Maggie on the mountain this morning, he would never have agreed to go up there tonight. Even if there was a patch of trees free for the taking.
If Mark and Eddie had known what waited in the shadow of Rickert’s Peak, they would have stayed far, far away from that place.
Tonight, reason turns to madness, madness gives way to terror.
And bad things happen on… The Mountain.

Our next excerpt comes This is from my own 2007 release BALEFUL EYE from the fine folks over at Publishing.

Midday, and Miles Bale sat in a crowded downtown café so nondescript he wondered if the staff had a hard time remembering how to find the place each day. Outside, the traffic was a heavy line of cars crawling slowly past the reflective windows.
He looked glumly away from the street, and across the table Bale at ‘the kid’. A pot of coffee smoked between them, besides that only two stained and chipped cups sat on the black-checkered table.
Looking at the greasy kid made Bale feel old. He knew he looked his years and then some, with doughy, pale features, as unmemorable as a wisp of smoke in the gathering of a crowd. The kind of face that blended into the background. Anyone who saw Bale on the street never recognized him again a few minutes later when he was waiting in a doorway; they never remembered him. It was the kind of thing that was an asset for Bale’s job.
It was good not to be noticed when you killed people for a living.
The only thing that anyone who got close enough to him could remember about Miles Bale was his shark’s stare. Dead and merciless eyes. Twin pools of dark intent that watched every movement around him.
Right now, he was watching the kid as the younger man lifted his cup and dribbled some of the coffee in his mouth between spitting his words across the table.
The kid’s real name was Trip (and, oh, how Bale had rolled his eyes when he heard that silly bit of news), and he was Bale’s antithesis in every way. Loud and obnoxious; his eyes darted like greedy mice at every little movement. He wore his greasy black hair slicked back, and a golden skull and crossbones earring dangled from his left lobe. The punk also sported a ridiculous looking gold-capped front tooth that made him look like he had a stain every time he smiled. And Bale got plenty chances to see Trip’s nasty knowing smile, with his dirty looking gold tooth, because the kid did it a lot. Usually at his own stupid comments. The punk was afflicted with a shit-disease: he thought he was one hell of a conversational hoot.
He wasn’t.
Ten minutes after meeting Trip, Bale was ready to kick his ass and hand it back to him on a gold-capped platter.
“I hate the black motherfuckers,” Trip said. His voice was too loud, and Bale could see a few of the restaurant’s patrons give them fuming stares. That was a bad thing in their line of work; the less they were remembered, the better for everyone concerned.
After his pronouncement, this sneering asshole set his cup down so hard that his coffee slopped all over the tabletop. “You know I once saw one of the sons of bitches rip off an old woman, man. A little gray-haired goddamn old lady, man! What kind of bastard rips off a little old lady?”
Bale ground his teeth. Loud or not, he didn’t care for this kind of talk.
“Listen, Trip,” he leaned in to speak quietly, “just cause one asshole does something shitty, doesn’t mean everyone that’s black is bad. That’s a queer bit of generalizing.”
“Fuck that noise,” Trip burst, shaking his head, and angrily jabbing his finger towards Bale to make his point. “A goddamn nigger, is a nigger, is a nigger, man. They’re fucking assholes because they’re black. Wouldn’t see no white man ripping off a little old woman for her goddam pension check.”
Bale let his eyes flick down at Trip’s pointing finger, just gazed mildly at it until Trip finally lowered it. He would put up with a lot for a quick few thousand; but by God he wasn’t going to have some piss-ant sticking his finger in his face. It was enough to have to sit here and listen to this racist little shit go on and on. But he figured some people didn’t know better. “Being black has nothing to do with it,” Bale explained in a mild tone. “It’s economic environment that makes someone steal. Whites and Latinos, Italians and Jews, can all be assholes just as easily. You take away any hope a man has of ever getting ahead in life and he’ll start taking what he needs, instead of earning it. That’s just a common societal fact.”
Trip sneered and poured himself more coffee, sloshing yet more on the soiled table. Guy’s a goddamn slob, Bale thought in disgust. Should be wearing a bib to drink a cup of simple goddam coffee. If he hadn’t been hired on to work with this waste of sperm, he’d just as soon put a bullet in his head for the sake of humanity. Something this abrasive should be scrubbing dishes or filing nails.
“Mex’cans ain’t nothing but light skin niggers anyway,” Trip helpfully classified for Bale. “Never met a one that I could trust as far as I could throw him. Last job I was on—”
“And how many jobs have you been on,” Bale interrupted. Since the subject had come up he figured he should know. The guy couldn’t have been any older than twenty-four or -five. He sure couldn’t have been on too many jobs at that age. Most guys Bale had known usually didn’t make it to what you’d call ‘retirement age’. They had a way of pissing off someone, sooner or later, and usually got ‘hit’ themselves. But a good gunman didn’t start hitting his stride until he hit his mid-thirties. Bale was willing to bet this pup was all bark and no bite. Probably knew someone that knew someone that needed a guy with a gun and a killer’s willingness to shoot whoever they were told to.
The abrupt question stopped Trip in mid-sentence and his beady green eyes narrowed in anger; his mouth turned down to a thin slit. Then there was that finger in Bale’s face again. “You trying to say something here, man? You think I can’t handle this shit?”
Bale placidly pushed the finger away. “No. I just wondered how many you’ve done. That’s all. But since you fucking mention it, Trip, I am beginning to wonder if maybe I got stuck with you to sort of baby-sit.”
Trip started to jab his finger at Bale again, but seemed to think better of it because he lowered his hand. But, clearly, Bale had pushed the kid. Now he had to show his balls or shut his mouth.
They both knew it.
Bale waited to see what Trip would do.
The seething young man sat back in the red sparkly vinyl booth and glared at Bale like a small dog who wasn’t sure if he wanted to fight or not, his cheeks hot red blooms. Bale could see his hands shook as he put them flat on the table in front of him.
“This your second, or third, one?” Bale asked with a glib smile.
Trip tried to stare the older man down, but Bale returned the glare, steady and ice cold. His eyes said what he would do to anyone who pushed too hard, too fast. Bale waited. He could see a tattoo beat pulsing at the kid’s neck. The restaurant full of people seemed to fade away around them, their locked eyes the only two things left in the universe. Neither blinked; the air coagulated with the invisible emotion between them.
Finally Bale chuckled. “Kid, you are one silly bastard, ain’t you? Here you are ready to get yourself shot over a simple question. I’m asking a question any professional should ask.”
“You best stop calling me kid right now, man.” Trip’s warning quavered unsteadily. “I was hired on and that should be good enough for you. They don’t send assholes to do something like this job. You know that.”
Bale knew that was the way things had once been. But things had changed a lot in his line of work. No one worried about quality anymore. Just the quick, easy hit. No skill, no art, just a bullet through the eye, or an ice pick in the temple if the guy was feeling particularly innovative. Sometimes, if a strong message was intended, there was the chainsaw or a rusty hacksaw. Just depended.
He gave Trip a shrug. “We’ll see,” he said, waiting until he saw the kid stand down. Slowly he poured more coffee in his own cup, took a lackadaisical sip, and set the cup back down again. He might as well get some things straight before the job. Better to say what needed saying. You never knew when you might not get the chance again.
“I don’t care for racists, Trip,” he said. “There’s something imbecilic about someone who dislikes a man because of the color of his skin. I’ve known plenty of black men who’d make ten of you. And, yes, a few fucking Mexicans, too. What counts in the world, kid, is how a man conducts himself. What he adds to the world. Being poor or rich is just as much a matter of chance and genetics as someone’s skin color. I don’t hold with that kind of shit talk. And I’ll thank you to keep your fucking mouth shut about your fucking politics and do the job.”
Trip’s lips trembled into a nasty sneer, some bravado words ready to leap out and piss Bale off even more. Bale felt his anger rise like a striking snake. Without seeming to move, he launched over the tabletop and had Trip’s shirt bunched tight in his fist. Trip blinked in surprise at the speed with which he’d been grabbed.
Close to his face now, Bale’s eyes bored into the younger man’s stunned visage. “Piss me off enough and I’ll make sure this is your last job,” Bale said, low and even, without emotion. He gave Trip a hard shove against the booth. A tuft of heavily oiled black hair fell over one of the young man’s eyes, giving him a ridiculous waif quality. Bale gazed ice at him and settled back in his seat. His anger, still a throbbing meat hook in his gut; made his hands tingle with barely controlled violence.
So that he had something to keep them from wrapping around the little asshole’s neck, he picked up his cup and drank some more coffee. The hot liquid scorched his inner cheeks. He could sense people staring at them, and now he felt like an asshole because he had done exactly what he didn’t like the kid doing. He had drawn attention to them, had slipped from his anonymity, into the limelight, because he had let his anger get the best of him.
After a few tense seconds, Trip’s frightened stare dropped to the tabletop. The ‘test and flex’ was done. He was the little dog and Bale was the big one. That was the way it had to be on every job. Couldn’t have too many chiefs and no goddamn Indians. That’s how the wrong motherfuckers got shot.
Trip tried to recover, held his hands up in mock surrender; his voice trembled like a tremolo violin. “Hey, man, chill…no reason to get pissed. You know? Hey, I ain’t got nothing against you, Bale. Right? Let’s just forget about it. Okay?”
Bale nodded. “Yeah.”
Silence quivered between them.
Bale glanced at his watch. It was time.
“Let’s go,” he said. “It’s time to do the job.”
The kid followed behind Bale as he paid the bill, and left a small, unmemorable tip, and exited the restaurant under the scrutiny of curious eyes.

Outside the day was warm and blue, the kind of day that vaguely reminded Bale of his days in Florida. A beach kind of sky. Without the water or screaming kids. But the stinking streets dispelled the precarious illusion of peaceful tropical days ahead. The collective stench of asphalt and trash, the constant caterwaul of noisy cabs and the ever-present jackhammer sounds of construction killed the sensation quickly.
One day he was going to get out of the city for good, go someplace where the beer was always cold, and the women were mostly wanton and liked older men.
Yeah, he thought glumly, wincing at the smell of garbage coming off Fifth, you’ve been telling yourself that for how many years now?
Trip kept to his right, a few inches behind him. He could tell the kid was still chagrined. Which was fine by him. Somebody like this drip needed an eye opener every once and awhile, a kind of reminder that the world wasn’t one philosophy or religion. He could share some hairy stories with Trip, but why bother? He was too young yet to get the meaning of a lot of things.
Bale, to his utter astonishment, had found in the last few years of his life that there was a subtlety that came with age. Past his forties, and a lot of shit that he thought was important had lost meaning and weight, and a lot of prosaic things had gained whole new ballast in his life. Being in your twenties meant that it was okay to be an erroneous prick and never having to be sorry for any of it. It wasn’t until long after that, when the memories of the selfish things you’d done to others to get ahead, it all came screaming up out of the void of memory, with flash-card poignancy.
During their walk Bale carefully checked the street ahead with the eye of a man who had been stupid before. It was a stolid habit, cultivated after being busted once, years ago. He’d never forgotten the feeling of nightmare surprise as the cuffs locked around his wrists, implacable and solid. Later in his cell, after forty-eight hours of tight-lipped silence in a hot small room, crowded with yelling, sweating cops, Bale’s lawyer had told him that the police had been waiting for him outside that hotel for hours. His overconfidence that nothing and nobody could touch him had cost him. Sitting in his grimly claustrophobic cell, listening to the real deal from the fat lawyer who smelled like fish, sour cream and Aqua-Velva made him realize how inexpertly he had been coasting along. When he lay down that night, with the stink of fear sweat inundating the gray walls, and the cloying stench of institutional antiseptic clogging his senses, he resolved never to live so easily again. He promised himself he would never do another stretch in a cell.
Checking the streets was just one of the habits he’d adopted for survival. He always kept a fully loaded piece on him at all times. Tucked in the waistband of his pants, and covered by the front of his loose crimson dress shirt, he wore a custom made Ruger Super Hawk, dull black, 16 shot, with muzzle repression (so that if he had to shoot at night, there would be no tell-tale flash to give him away).
He didn’t know what the kid had, but it was probably something obtrusive and flashy. A Taurus, or a gaudy Smith and Wesson model, and most likely in a shoulder holster with enough leather to coat a Caddy’s front seat.
Green, man. Granny-Smith green.
Next to him, the kid fumed silently against Bale’s slow pace. One glance and he could see his cheeks were rosy; he chewed nervously at his bottom lip. Another sign that the asshole was as green as a Granny-Smith.
Fuck you, kid, he thought sullenly. Wait until you get a few scars and breaks to make every day a test in endurance. He figured, with his attitude, Trip would probably never have to worry about getting that far along.
They had a six-block walk to the warehouse from the restaurant. Bale had parked his car there a few hours ago, long enough that it would blend in to the neighborhood if anyone saw it. The warehouse was in one of those tucked away places that every major cities have, where there was no real traffic to speak of, and hardly anyone to worry about seeing them. Supposedly pretty much empty at this time of day, it was the kind of place that did a lot of business at night.
Bale stopped at the high wire fence surrounding the property, but the gate had been left opened, just as promised. At forty-eight, Bale didn’t climb fences any longer. It was just too much of a hassle. Nowadays he’d shoot the lock off before he’d climb a fence.
No one was in sight as they crossed the cracked asphalt lot and made their way out of the sun and inside the dark of the cavernous building. Inside, the overhead lights had been dimmed so the place was dark. Walking through the vast dimness of the near empty building felt like strolling inside of a whale carcass.
Along the walls there sat a few haphazardly stacked boxes, but the place was far from full. Which told Bale there had been a lot of business lately. Product was flying out the door. Mickey Bean had told him that much, and he’d been right again.
At the back of the warehouse, like unseen spirits, could be heard voices, coming from a lighted and enclosed office hunkered down in all the inkiness. As they moved forward silently, an occasional eruption of raucous laughter broke the vague monotonous tones.
Bale wasn’t much into porn, but he supposed it was one of the few businesses that any enterprising person could make a lot of money with very little investment- that and prostitution- and for pretty much the same reasons. A lot of men wanted to believe the Penthouse forum letters; that the next mind-blowing fuck was just around the corner, with no emotional attachment and no consequences. Nothing wrong with dreaming. People bought the stuff, left and right, so there had to be a reason why it sold so well. Not everyone was 700 Club material.
These guys were into stuff a lot kinkier than the average Adam and Eve catalogue crowd. They were into the hardcore shit. Kiddie shit, bondage shit, dwarves, grannies, gangbangs, animal shit, snuff films, cannibal shit, shit shit…you name it, these guys could get it for you. For a price. The more grotesque, the more illegal and higher the risk, the higher that price. That was why Mickey Bean had sent Bale (and his fucking dink of a rookie gun boy) on this job. Seems there was some serious dough being made here, and too little of it was being routed to the people it should. Mickey Bean had discovered that most of the profits from this little skin venture he’d helped to finance a few years ago were being funneled into bank accounts that didn’t belong to the moneymen. The accounts belonged to the assholes in the lighted office ahead. And if there was one unforgivable sin in the commandments of the underworld, taking money from the moneymen was the worst. A deadly sin.
But as if that weren’t bad enough, even if these shits hadn’t been stealing money from his bosses, they had become too unprofessional to hold the reigns on something so lucrative. They had been running it too loose and easy for too long and that was making some big men sweat. Mickey Bean figured one of these guys was going to run his mouth to the wrong set of ears and start shooting off about men who should never be mentioned by name. Guys so big even Bale didn’t know their real names. It was like that old Stones tune about the devil telling you about the bad shit he’s done, that kind of big.
Just before he and Trip were within eyesight of the office windows, he guided the kid back into the shadows of a stack of boxes. “Listen,” he said, pulling his piece from the waistband of his pants, “don’t pull the trigger until I say it’s okay. There’s some shit we need to know first, some names and numbers. They got to think they’re gonna make it out if they give us the information. You hearing what I’m saying to you, junior?”
Trip’s eyes and mouth narrowed into angry little lines again at the name ‘junior’. “Lay off the fucking pep-talk, okay? I know what I’m doing here.”
Bale let go of the kid’s arm and nodded amiably. He had his own ideas about what the kid did and didn’t know, but he’d let it go for now.
He checked the load of his gun, even though he already knew it was full, and held it down by his side.
The kid managed to pull his gun out of a shiny new black leather shoulder holster (oh, why were they always so goddamned predictable?) without blowing a hole in his dick: a long barreled bastard of a Colt .357 that looked like a cannon.
Bale rolled his eyes. Jesus, if the fucking shot didn’t do the trick, he could pistol-whip a fucking hippo with the thing.
Trip licked his lips and smiled nervously at Bale. The gun shook visibly in his hands.
Bale nodded him forward, let him take the lead this time; the long pistol swung at the kid’s side like a nightstick.
The light reflecting against the grimy office windows allowed the two killers to slip past the open doorway without being seen until they were inside. The three men were so taken with whatever they were watching on the television sitting in the middle of the cluttered and dirty desk it took them a few seconds to register someone had walked in on them. By then it was too late for any of them to do anything about the surprise invasion.
The office was cramped and stank like body odor, stale cigarette smoke, and the plastic wrappers of the numerous stacks of the VHS tapes and DVDs against the dusty walls. The animal grunts of someone being fucked roughly that Bale couldn’t see was too loud in the small office. The desk separated he and Trip from the three men, but he didn’t figure it for much a problem.
“Hello, fellas,” Bale said. He made sure the gun stayed at his side, visible, but not yet pointed in menace at anyone. That would come in a few minutes. Right now he needed them to think that this was just a social checkup call.
Out of the corner of his eye, Bale was glad to see that the kid wasn’t swinging the Colt around. He had it steady by his side, slightly tapping with it at his leg. He silently willed him to move about two feet to the right for perfect coverage of the area. Bale couldn’t see the hands of the little guy at the end of the desk, and that should be what the kid was looking for instead of him. A veteran would have known that.
When they realized that they had unexpected visitors in their midst, the three men stopped looking at the television. Bale had their full attention. No one laughed any longer. No one watched the television. There was a lot of uncertainty in their wide eyes. Nervous, but not scared enough yet.
That was good.
One had to work in degrees for a certain response. Sometimes blundering in with guns blazing was the wrong way of getting things done. If the kid didn’t fuck this up, the whole thing might just go down like a script.
No one spoke yet, so he took a casual seat on the edge of the desk, and placed the Hawk in his lap. He held it loose and easy, but he was willing to bet that it looked like a cannon to these assholes right now. “I guess you guys know whom I work for,” he said. It wasn’t a question. They only had one boss.
The big man in the middle of the trio was fat and sloppy looking, greasy beard and hair, gray interwoven like dust. He looked from the gun back to Bale, again and again. One of the others gave Trip and his gun a quick glance, but stayed silent. Fatso leaned back in his chair with a creak. It was obvious who the big man was here.
Bale continued: “The man whom I work for has a few questions he needs answered.” He eyed each of them, looking for any body language that someone might go for a piece. No one moved, except for Fatso; he acted as cool as a cucumber. “He sent me and my partner, here,” he nodded at Trip, “to ask the questions for him.”
Bale let the silent moment spread like an oil spill. The t.v. noise still reverberated in the room, that same chick moaning and groaning. “Why don’t we shut that shit off, so we can talk, huh?” He motioned slightly at the television with his gun.
Fat boy creaked forward in his chair, switched it off, and then leaned back in his chair again, as placid and easy as can be. He folded his hands across his ample belly and waited, as if he didn’t have a care in the world. Nope, no problems here…
Now the office was dead quiet.
The other two men stayed close to the fat man, and Bale kept hoping that the kid would see the space and scoot his ass over just a little to the right. He still couldn’t see both hands of the guy on the left, and it made him nervous. Like an itch he couldn’t scratch.
Fatso spoke: “So what’s he need to know?”
“Business been good?” Bale asked, taking the conversation off in a different direction.
The man’s beady pig-eyes narrowed. He gave a non-committal shrug. “It’s okay, I guess.”
Bale nodded, tried a different tact: “Lots of empty space out there.” He motioned with his gun at the black, empty space beyond the office. Worried eyes followed the gun’s movement. “Looks like business has been good.”
He heard the kid give a frustrated sigh, unhappy with his pace again. Bale ignored him, kept that easy smile plastered on his doughy face. “See my boss needs to know where his cut is. He needs to know if you’re doing such a brisk trade, why he isn’t seeing no better money.”
And now it was out, the reason for the social call. Fatso looked plenty worried. Bale could see the multitudes of lies forming behind his skittering eyes, something that would sound believable enough so that he could stall and get the fuck out of town.
The big man chose one: “We’re waiting on some returns from our distributors, my man,” he said. The greasy smile didn’t fool Bale one bit. “The boss outta know by now that we can’t be running them down if they’re a little bit late here and there. It ain’t like this is the kind of business that’s got offices and secretaries and 401Ks and shit like that. Takes a little time sometimes to get the money into the right accounts.”
A tense silence stretched along until Bale snickered at the fat man and shook his head. He got off the desk and fixed him with a hard glare. “This is how it’s going to go down, you fat, greasy fuck,” he said. A flash of anger burned across the other man’s slit gaze; he wasn’t used to anyone talking to him that way. But Bale waved the gun around a little to remind him who was in charge.
“You got the money in some other accounts, under false names. My boss already knows that much. He wants the names and numbers.” He leaned on the desk and smiled. “You do that, fat boy, and you walk away from this shit with nothing but empty pockets. That sounds like a win-win deal to me.”
He took in all three of the pale shaking men, his eyes black and cold now, voice rimmed with some of that ice. “But if you get all Charlie Bronson on me, then you won’t have a chance to worry about empty fucking pockets. You got me?”
He nodded at Trip.
“And I’ll have junior here shoot your fucking toes off one by one until you feel like talking.”
He heard Trip mutter something nasty about his mother, but the kid held his position. Bale could feel the familiar violent electricity in the air; he sensed the empty space of the warehouse beyond him, empty has he felt inside, even now, when he was about to take a life.
Fatso tried to chuckle in response to Bale’s quiet laughter, even tried to slip on another of his greasy smiles, but it was obvious that he knew the moment of truth was coming. He knew how deep he was in the fryer, even if his two companions still had no idea how bad it was about to get for them. But he tried to scoot out of it anyway, even now when the truth stared at him from the hard, black eye of a gun: “I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about, my man,” he said. “There ain’t no such accounts.”
Bale gave a tired sigh and nodded. “Yeah, I figured you for this kind of shit. You’re the big dumb type.” He turned to Trip, nodded at the guy on the left. “This fat fuck needs a lesson. Shoot that asshole.”
He had to give junior points for promptness. Trip didn’t hesitate at all; he just pulled the trigger. The man’s head warped, kicked back half a foot, and his brains painted the glass and walls behind him in a gory display. The room blossomed with the stink of hot blood, ruined gray matter, burned gunpowder, and singed flesh. The dead man collapsed like a hunk of rotten fruit; his bowels released, adding a definite unwanted perfume to the air as well.
Bale looked calmly at the dead man, then turned his gaze on Fatso. His face had gone pale. Fatso surviving partner stumbled back from the desk, his hands flying before him like scatter-shot birds, his eyes two huge holes of terror and disbelief. He tried to spit his words out so fast that they tangled into an unintelligible gibberish. Bale kept his attention on Fatman. His porcine face twitched uncontrollably. Bits of brain and blood slid down his forehead and cheeks, some of it stuck in his lanky hair and beard. He had a hopeless look in his eyes that said he knew he was finished and that there was no way out of this mess. This was the final curtain call, my man.
Bale kept the Hawk pointed at his face, waiting for him to come to a decision. The money would disappear with this fat fuck if he were forced to blow him away. There were ways to make him talk, of course, but torture could sometimes do more harm than good in the long run. It might get this guy to say anything at all just to stop the pain; and they didn’t need false information, they needed the money. Besides, Mickey Bean hadn’t said shit about torture to get to the money, so Bale figured it hadn’t been a great deal of money to begin with. This here was more an example being set than an actual retrieval.
The grease ball on the right still gibbered away, trying to make his words come out right, and Bale begun to suspect that the boy might actually know something. He caught a couple of words, names and some numbers. And Fatso must have heard them too, because he tried to cold cock the other man with his ham fist. Terror blazed in his eyes. The smaller man ducked under Fat man’s fists, blubbering and spewing snot and spit every which way, his voice strident and almost impossible to make out under the savage attack of his boss. “Please…don’t…don’t…don’t fuckin’ kill me…It was Leroy did it all…Leroy…Leroy…fuckin did it…took the money man.”
Bale leaned forward and smacked Leroy in the side if his fat head. He stumbled back in pain, left off hitting his partner, blood already rising from a nasty hit to the temple; his eyes wobbled like marbles in his disconnected face.
“Where is it?” Bale asked the crying man, putting himself between him and Fatso.
“I’ll tell…you…just …don’t kill…me please,” the man pleaded.
And Bale could see it in the shaking eyes of the fat man: Leroy knew the man knew where the money was and how to get to it. The boss had fucked up, had shown some paperwork around that he shouldn’t have, maybe bragged about the stunt in detail how he was going to be a rich man and those Mafia fucks couldn’t do shit to stop him, cause they were too fucking stupid to know any better. It was all right there in his fallen face, blood running a thick stream from his face, the dead man’s smile on his lips.
Bale nodded. “Yeah, you fucked up, didn’t you?” he said.
And then he pulled the trigger.
The job was done.

From the backcover:
When cold blooded hit man Miles Bale discovers a forgotten artifact that calls forth the outcast angels known as The Grigori, he finds himself in the middle of an eons long secret war. Now he must survive long enough to destroy The Grigori before mankind faces the prophesied final darkness.

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--Nickolas Cook