The tenement was tumble down and filthy, located in the decaying heart of the slums which its denizens had unceremoniously dubbed, The Tombs, and was covered over with discarded papers and the remnants of the rain. The man who stood before the door was thankful for the rain; it washed away the filth and smell. The filth of stale soda and beer and tampons and shriveled up used condoms and the smell of piss, defecation and dead animals now was but faint background, no distraction to the task at hand. He paused at the door as an old drunk stumbled across the trash strewn ambit some fifty paces off, groaning and coughing like a man beplagued. Some kids appeared about the corner of the alley and accosted the doddery rednose, laughing and prodding. They wore chic and spoke with affected slang. None had known hardship. When they noticed the light glinting off the chrysanthemum jacket they paused. The man held their gaze until they turned and left out of the passage, shaken by a placeless fear. Red nosed swiveled to behold what manner of beast had secured his salvation and raised a half empty bottle of vodka in thanks. Footsteps clattered in the din, one set departing the alley, another entering in from the door to the crumbling tenement. When the door opened, the man with the chrysanthemum jacket, looked up into the thin, squinting eyes of a huge man of indeterminable ethnic extraction, some forty years of age.
No response. Fist to gut and the big man went dropping to his knees as a knee met his skull. When the big man awoke he was in a damp room that he recognized as his basement. Ropes secured arms and feet to a steel chair bolted to the floor. Beside him was the dismembered torso of a young twenty something. Her blood spread out across the floor; now hard and dry and stucco’d like coral in the foam of the sea. Behind the foam, eyes of topaz glinting in dark.
“The fuck is this?”
The xanthous-eyed man did not reply but rather titled his head upwards all the better to study his subject, fixing the slightly ruffled sleeves and cuffs of his immaculate, white jacket, smoothing them out. Heavy breathing came and went from the chair, small eyes twitching back and forth, side to side, seeking escape in nervous tandem with the arms that strained their bonds. All movements in vain.
There was no escape.
At length the prisoner spoke once more. His desperation increasing with every passing moment.
“Who the fuck are you? What do you want? Did Karol send you? Fuck. Fuck. He did, didn’t he? Its fine. All cool. Tell him its cool. Ok? Tell him. I’ve got the money,” a nervous chuckle, “Eddy Brine has always got the money. Its in the safe. Ok? Ok? You just untie me and I can get it and we can bring it to him together.”
The xanthous-eyed man gazed silently to the bloody, dismembered corpse which hung in suspension from the rafters of the low, musty ceiling, flesh seared from face, breasts melted into stomach and a retching odor filing up out from that horror. The man’s movement was neither a question nor a indictment, but merely a shuffling of consciousness, the renewal of immediacy, the return of the real. Brine squirmed. When the xanthous-eyed man picked up the propane burner Brine gasped. When the flame began vaporizing his hands he screamed. None to hear. None but two.
When the man with the chrysanthemum jacket had extracted all required information and carved his message he turned to the dead woman. She was wearing a bracelet. The small silver ring dangled limply against the small mass of her upper arm out. Xanthous eyes studied it through the gloam and left off out the basement as a stream of vain blubbering echoed from the pit.
“Where are you going? Hey. Hey! Heeeeeey! You can’t fucking leave me like this, you can’t fucking leave me like this! Help! Somebody heeeelllllppp mmmmeeeeee!”
The man with the chrysanthemum jacket moved up to the kitchen. The sink was filled with blood. His eyes widened with boundless intensity and his hand moved to the stove dials. Turned them on, all of them. Gas flooded the room.
Liet Harkness spit up his coffee outside the laundromat as the blast rocked the street. A great ball of flame gushed up into the phantasmal horizon and beyond it, resonating a furious howl. Fire glistened above stocky tenements and birds scattered from catastrophe, squawking as if in warning.
He jogged down the shattered sidewalk, to the south, to the heart of The Tombs, past the old industrial factory, now defunct, past the cast-off shop, past the curio where a strange old man watched him from the window and then took a hard left to behold a great c-section housing block consumed in flames. Blackened detritus lined the streets and twisted, exoskeletal re-bar dull-shimmered in the midday light. A figure stood before the building. A man. Of indeterminable age, quite tall and well built and wearing a jacket of white, xanthous eyes half-hidden by a plain navy ball cap, low-pulled over the face.
Harkness took a sip from his paper coffee cup, took a deep breath and walked forth along the thin alley way which let out to the blasted tenement. When the man with the ball cap heard Harkness approached he paused.
The stranger regarded Harkness keenly a moment before responding and when he did the voice was like mist.
“A star wandered too close to a black hole.”
“The hell does that mean?”
The man with the dark ball cap ignored him and passed by and vanished out the alleyway. When the fog had cleared from Harkness pounding brain he ditched his cup in a nearby trashcan before the alley and ran after the mysterious stranger. Upon emerging out into the street before the tenement only the old man from the curio shop could be seen, starring with vacant eyes.
“Fire hazard. I warned um.”