I'll scratch yours - Editor
by Richard Keane
In Brad’s world, money could only get you so far, but do a favour for the right person and doors would open you never even knew existed. Do a favour for the manager of the Langham hotel in London – say a nuisance broad who didn’t know when to keep her mouth shut needed to disappear – and you could get an all expenses paid weekend in the penthouse. Whilst a favour for a detective at the local precinct could ensure an unfortunate event in the near future would go largely unnoticed.
Favours were the thinking man’s currency.
But, as with anything, too much of a good thing is bound to come crashing down sooner or later. Get on the wrong side of the wrong person, and then things got real complicated…
The favour was for an anonymous client – that was how things worked most of the time. You do a favour for me, I do a favour for you, but that doesn’t mean I need to know if you work for the government – hell! You could be doing a favour for the Prime Minister and be none the wiser.
The favour had been passed on by an intermediary. Not that there was a call centre where favours were handled all day long. In this line of work it was best not to know who you were doing business with. The job was simple. A warehouse on Dart Street, down by the docks, needed to accidentally catch fire and burn down to the ground. Not one of his most discreet favours, but he wasn’t complaining.
He had the gear in the trunk of his Sedan, the car a rental under a different name. Hey, that was just good business sense. It was the early hours, at least another hour or two before the sun would show its face. The streets were empty, and his foot was firmly down on the gas pedal.
He pulled up a street over from the warehouse.
He got out of the car and collected the gear from the trunk: fireproof gloves, three cans of petrol and a box of matches. What could be simpler? He walked down the street, with the equipment in tow. What would the cops say if they happened to see him now, carrying the gear for his bonfire to be? He would probably find he had done a favour for one of the guys in the past, or their boss, and everything would be cool. That was the thing with favours, what made them such a unique currency. The guys with good business sense didn’t just do a favour for somebody, and then get one in return. No, you had to put some in the bank for a rainy day, when something bad went down and you needed a get out clause.
The warehouse came into view.
The doors were boarded up, most of the windows broken, and those that were not were as black as the night sky. When he came to the door, he heaved his gear to the ground. Then, from behind his back, hid securely by the elasticity of his trousers, he grasped his trusty crowbar. All it took was a few jolts, and the door was open.
He stepped into the building.
His footsteps echoed loudly, as if the building were groaning at his admittance. The smell of damp was ripe in the air, and other smells he didn’t care to think about. Through holes in the ceiling crept strands of moonlight, which flickered and danced on machines that had been left behind to become little more than rusting gravestones.
He got to work, placing the cans at strategic points as planned, and created a trail of gas to make sure things got going quickly. Though, now he saw the state of the place he doubted he needed so much petrol. There was more than enough flammable ware left in the place. He got the box of matches from his pocket, and held a match ready to light…
The building was thrown into blinding radiance.
He threw his hands up before his face, almost losing his footing at his surprise. The light was coming from outside, his mind already formulating an exit strategy. It wasn’t looking good. The next moment, as if by some trick of the light, he was at the window as he wiped the dirt from the glass.
A flash of red.
He felt his skin crawl. It couldn’t be. Not now. Not tonight. He looked again. There was a person dressed in red leather from head to toe, a woman, one of three to be precise. She opened her mouth…
He darted away from the widow, and at that moment a piercing scream battered his eardrums. The window frames shook on their hinges, already weak from age and disrepair, until they exploded into the warehouse. The fragments of glass came down like snow drops, snow drops that could cut skin and blind eyes. He held his jacket over his head for protection, and crouched under a rusting machine.
The sound stopped, and the blinding light went with it.
He could hear his heart beating fiercely in his ears. He looked to the entrance of the building, but no one entered. His gaze lingered there for a second nonetheless. He rose to his feet and began pacing. The glass scrunched under his feet. Why were they here? He had heard they were on the warpath after some untouchable guy was killed, but he had had nothing to do with that. And a job like this was too small time for them.
Outside he could hear voices now, but he paid them no attention. He needed to think, needed to throw a curve ball that would mix things up and somehow get him out of this.
“Damn it”, he said aloud, as he stopped in his tracks.
There was no other option. He didn’t like it, but this was why you always kept a favour or two in your wallet should things get screwed up. But still, he’d rather big favours like that remain in his wallet.
He took the phone from his pocket, and began to dial. He watched the door closely. Why had no one come in yet? It took only one ring of the phone for the man to answer.
“I was wondering when this day would come.” The man’s voice was gravely, but by no means sounded like someone who had been awoken unexpectedly in the early hours.
Brad didn’t say a word.
“So, what’ll it be? Something big I’m guessing.” He hated the cheerfulness of the man’s voice.
His eyes remained fixed on the door. “I need a get out clause, Bob.” He had to force the words from his mouth.
“You? Never thought I’d see the day.” Neither had he.
He could hear footsteps approaching. “Look, you’re going to need to make this happen quickly.”
“You’ve got one go at this, Brad. A slight mistake or miss-shot, and you’re toast.”
“I know,” he said begrudgingly. He moved further away from the door.
Bob only had a few skills, but they had their advantages. Even impossible situations like this became possible when you had that kind of talent. Still, the guy wasn’t an energiser bunny and a skill like that was only good every week or so.
“Right,” Bob said, and the phone went dead
He put the phone in his pocket.
A flicker of red appeared at the door, and then again and again. The Three Sisters. They wore red to mirror the blood of their victims, and to send a wave of fear into their enemies. And hell, it worked well. They were the police of the Other Side, only they didn’t stop to ask questions.
All of a sudden, there was a flash of light, but it was not a blinding one. He turned. On the wall had appeared a large hole, which looked out onto a setting that was not the mess of the factory. It looked like a field of wavy grass, cloaked in darkness. His head turned at a flicker of red metres away from where he stood. He needed to move.
Bob’s words reverberated in his head.
A slight mistake or miss-shot, and you’re toast.
Taking a deep breath, he jumped through the hole.
He was falling…
He didn’t know why he was falling. Maybe something had gone wrong. But then, there was a residing splash when he fell into the river.
Son of a bitch, he thought.
He resurfaced, and gulped in the cold night air. He looked up. The hole remained open above him, like a void into another universe. The colour of crimson appeared at its mouth, deadly in pursuit. There was no face, only blood red that covered the pursuer’s body from head to toe.
The hole closed, and he breathed a sigh of relief.
After a moment, as his adrenaline faded and violent shivering took hold of his body, he realised the water was freezing and that if he didn’t get out and into a change of clothing soon he would likely catch hyperthermia.
He couldn’t have made the hole open onto a grass field? Even a pig sty would have been better.
He swam to the river’s edge, and shivered violently when the chill of early morning collided with the river’s water that soaked his body. The sun was beginning to dawn. Soon there would be people. He needed to get out of the open, and he desperately needed a change of clothes.
There was only one option.
He ran faster than any man or woman could. That was his skill. He was like a shadow, there one moment and gone the next, a mere blink in your peripheral vision. Yet, it seemed now that no matter how fast you ran you couldn’t always outrun your problems. He was in trouble. Someone had set him up, but who and why? He was uncertain if he was more annoyed because someone had had the cheek to set him up, or because one of his most precious favours had been used.
A get out clause gone down the drain.
And the Three Sisters.
He had heard stories about them, like everybody else on the Other Side, but to actually have them on his tail was a different story all together. They weren’t even sisters as far as he knew, but who could tell when they dressed like red demons? He had seen them once before, and he had seen the damage they could wreak. Them being there tonight meant this was big. The Three Sisters didn’t deal with small time jobs like the warehouse. That was kid’s play to them.
Whoever set him up must have had friends in high places.
He dashed along the river bank like the road runner, a glimmer of light in the morning dawn. The sound of birds’ singing was a constant whistle to his ears, unable to settle into any meaningful tune. But he was growing tired, and he was still shivering in an alarming fashion. Every skill had its limitations, and it had been a long night.
He wasn’t going to the city though. Not yet. Soon he would ask questions, but not yet. He needed to visit one of his hideouts, out in the woods. Living on the Other Side, and the way he did, you needed to be prepared for anything, needed to have a place to go when things got too hot. The Three Sisters’ arrival had been unexpected, but he was a pro and had learnt early on that you had to be ready no matter how unexpected things got.
He slowed his pace. The sound of the birds’ singing became harmonious.
He stopped, and his hand was already turning the key in the lock. It was an old disused barn. No one came out here. Not families who thought it a nice place to escape the city for a day, or kids looking for a hideout while they got stoned and reached second base. The place was protected by invisible barriers – just another one of his past favours put to good use. But it wouldn’t provide protection against the Three Sisters.
He needed to move fast.
He opened the door. There was nothing homely about the barn. There were no colour-matched furnishings, or any other sign that somebody lived there in comfort. It had the bare essentials, for when things got uncomfortable. He removed his sodden clothes, which weighed a tonne and smelt more like sewer than river, and put on some clean clothes he had found and wrapped a blanket around his shoulders.
There was some wood kindling already on the fire ready to be burned. He got a new box of matches from a drawer – the other ones were wet – and lit the fire. He stood before it, rubbing his chest, until the warmth of the fire grew and eventually seeped into his bones, taking away the misery of the night’s events. No one would see the smoke from the chimney; another facet of the invisible barrier.
He found a can of chicken soup in a cupboard, in what could barely be classed as a kitchen. He put it in a pan and rested it above the fire, but only waited until it was lukewarm before devouring it. He ate in front of the fire on a stool, until the shivers that had teased him so greatly began to subside. When he was warmed up and well fed, he lay down before the fire. Sleep didn’t come easy and when it finally did he dreamt of gaping holes in the sky that peered out onto other worlds, where red demons with only darkness for faces stared back at him
He awoke with a start.
His eyes surveyed the barn. There was no one there. He had been dreaming, a bad sign as ever there were. He never dreamed. Dreams were for schmucks who yearned for something better than what they had, a common ailment amongst the nine to five workers. But still, it was a bad sign. This mess must have gotten to him worse than he thought.
He looked down at his watch. Five p.m. He had been asleep for over ten hours. Bob’s skill sure had its drawbacks. But it didn’t matter. It would be dark in little over an hour, and then the city’s own unique sewage would come flowing out of the gutters, ready to talk. The darkness had a funny way of making people talk.
He left the barn when the light began to fade. He didn’t run. It would take him half an hour to reach a place where there were people, and he didn’t want that to happen until his old friend the darkness was by his side. He felt rejuvenated after his rest. It wasn’t so much what had happened at the factory that had tired him out before, however unexpected it was, but more because of Bob’s skills. Travelling like that was never meant for the human body, it was too weak. Any lesser man would have crumpled like an old man on ice, but Brad wasn’t just any guy.
Moss and wood crumpled under his feet, as he filtered through the trees like a spectre. All was quiet otherwise. He tried to think back to the phone call for the job at the factory, any sign that may enlighten him to who was behind it. But he couldn’t recall anything suspicious, and the safety measures they put in place would prevent him from tracing back to the contact directly. The job had sounded easy. He should have known better.
The darkness settled, like a cloak around his shoulders. He felt comforted by its shadow.
When he came to the river he continued along the embankment, before turning onto a public pathway. It was surrounded by shrubbery on each side, which steadily gave way to fences and tarmac, until only glimpses of foliage could be seen. There were faces in the darkness now: couples holding hands; shopkeepers locking up; drug dealers standing on street corners; police sat in cruisers looking the other way; and children who had been allowed out to play amongst the city’s vermin.
The neon lights of the restaurants and bars surrounded him, accompanied by raucous chatter and laughter.
Finally, he came to his destination. He would have his answers soon. He looked up at the flashing sign, the words Sandra’s bar overlapping a pair of barely covered neon breasts.
He walked in.
The stench of smoke greeted him, repulsive itself, but he could smell the sweat and cheap cologne undercurrent. He went to the bar. The bartender double-checked when he saw who was standing at his bar. He had been in the middle of serving another customer, but the patron was forgotten in an instant and left to whisper to himself irritably.
“Hey, Brad.” The bartender could barely meet his gaze, his voice as frail as a schoolgirl. He cleaned a glass with a dish cloth, a little too vigorously.
“Long time, no see.”
“Yeah.” The bartender forced a grin. “What can I do for you?”
“I’ll take a glass of bourbon, if that’s not too much trouble.” He peered around the bar, but there were few faces to note.
“Sure thing.” The bartender grabbed a bottle from behind the bar, and poured its brown liquid into a glass.
Brad took a sip when the glass was handed to him. He savoured the feel of warmth it ignited in his throat, the coldness he had felt after his near drowning in the river gradually becoming a distant memory.
“Is he here?”
The bartender seemed to recoil at his question. His gaze flickered to a row of tables at the far side of the bar.
Brad nodded. He collected his glass and walked over.
The old man sat alone reading a newspaper and smoking a cigarette. An empty glass stood on the table, next to an ashtray crammed with cigarette butts. The old guy didn’t look up when he approached, but Brad knew how good the guy’s hearing was. Looks are deceiving – the phrase must have been created for guys like him. Most people didn’t learn that until it was too late.
He sat down and placed his glass on the table, but the man continued to read his newspaper. The man’s hair was cropped, tinges of grey beginning to take over what had previously been dark hair. His face was also showing signs of age, sagging skin and frown lines the result of an eventful life.
He scanned the bar for anyone that may deserve his attention. He was feeling a little more skittish than normal, unsurprising after the past day’s events.
“So, you made it?”
He took a sip of bourbon, and noticed the newspaper had been set down on the table. The old man watched him intently.
“Thanks to you, Bob.” He leaned back into his chair. “But I can’t say I appreciate the soaking. A little unnecessary, I thought.”
Bob laughed. “You young guys, you always expect things to be done yesterday. You don’t understand the finer details. And let’s not forget, you did call me at five in the morning. Portals aren’t tools I have in abundant supply, no matter what you may think.”
He waved a hand dismissively.
“So, what happened?”
He rubbed his temples. “I was set up.” The words tasted sour. He took a sip of bourbon, to ease his rising temperature.
“Who the hell would set you up?”
His lips twitched into a faint smile. “That’s why I’ve come to see you.”
“Not enough that I saved your ass, now you want information? It’s always the same with you, Brad, always wanting more.”
“The Three Sisters were there.”
Bob paused for a moment, taken aback. He ran his hands through his hair, the occasional flicker of brown still visible amongst his greying hair.
“What is it you want to know?”
“I need a name. Something to get me started.” He downed the rest of the bourbon, and wiped at the corners of his mouth with the sleeve of his shirt. “I wouldn’t ask but–”
“Don’t give me that crap,” Bob interrupted him. His tone wasn’t stern, but nor was it gentle. “We’re old friends. I mean come on.” He shook his head. “I’m the one who got you into this game. You know I won’t let you down.” His expression became thoughtful. “But I can only give you a step in the right direction.”
Bob tore a strip from the newspaper, and wrote on it with a pen from his pocket. After folding the piece of paper up, Bob handed him the note. He nodded his thanks, and rose form his seat. He nodded curtly to the barman on his way out, but the wave he got in return held not an ounce of believability. He was thankful to leave the stench of the place.
He came out into the darkness of night again. But it was not truly dark.
Life, if that’s what it could be called around this place, overcame the shadows. The people feared what the darkness would reveal, and so they hung around bars and strip joints, or under street lamps huddled together, not to keep the cold at bay but to feel the protection that came from being with other people. He eyed them like a vicious animal, his anger after what had happened at the factory suddenly flowing through his veins.
He shook his head.
There was no point wasting his energy on one of these dregs of society, not even the drug dealer at the street corner currently selling drugs to some schoolgirl, while the police sat idly by supping on joe and scoffing doughnuts.
He retrieved the strip of newspaper Bob had given him from his pocket, and unrolled it. When he saw the name, he stopped abruptly in the street. A person bumped into him and began to mouth off, until they realised who it was they were talking to and carried on walking with their head down. He stared back at the name on the piece of paper. He had thought things were complicated enough
He knew the name. He knew where she lived - hell! He had been living with her at her place for two years, before things had gone off the rails. How was she involved? The thought was a troubling one. He could only hope Bob had made a mistake, heard wrong from somebody, and that Charlie was no way involved. But he had to find out.
She owned a strip joint on what he liked to call bourgeois alley, courtesy of the rich scum who left their wives and kids at home while they went to watch girls who were barely older than their own daughters take their clothes off. Or more if the price was right.
He came to the entrance.
Two bouncers the size of tree trunks tensed up when they saw him. He squeezed his hands into fists. They may be as big as houses, but no one could move as fast as he could. Before he reached them, a woman with dark skin arrived at their side. She placed a cautionary hand on each of their shoulders, and whispered something into their ears. They then stepped aside like good guard dogs. When he walked past them he gave them a wry smile.
He joined the stride of the dark skinned woman. Charlie. She was beautiful as he remembered; her shape, her slim but strong cheekbones, and her devilish eyes that could eat away at any man’s soul. He had forgotten how perfect she was. They had broken up over a year ago, but you never forgot a woman like Charlie.
She turned, and saw him staring. A knowing smile graced her lips.
“The day Brad Chambers walks through my door is a bad day for all of us. A storm must be coming.”
He remained quiet, as he allowed her to lead him through the throng of the strip joint. The music was loud, but barely resonated over the jeers and cheers of old men who stood ogling at bare skin swinging from poles. His eyes remained fixed on Charlie. Not one of the girls in the place could match her beauty.
She led him through a door at the rear of the club, and up some steps that led to a large office. The décor was a stark contrast to the dark and dank setting below, her little safe haven. Charlie took a seat on the edge of a desk, at the far side of the room. He remained standing by the door. When they broke up it had been on good terms, or as good terms as you could hope for after a break up. But, he didn’t know what to think after Bob had given him the note with her name on it.
He watched her take a cigarette from a box on the desk, and place it elegantly between her lips. She lit it and took a drag. He had always hated to be with a woman who smoked, but with Charlie he couldn’t help but make allowances.
“So,” she said to him, “there are whispers on street corners of strange things going on, and lo and behold you appear.” She smiled. “Coincidence?”
He took a step closer into the room. The smell of her fragrance was intoxicating. It overshadowed the smoke filtering through the room. “Things have been a bit crazy. I wouldn’t be here otherwise.”
“I’ll say,” she said, and tapped cigarette ash into the ashtray on the table. “And why would you come to see me, then? After all this time, having not seen me since we broke up, why would you come back?”
He shuffled on his feet uncomfortably. “I saw Bob downtown.”
“Good old Bob. He still going?” She placed the finished cigarette into the ashtray, and lit another one. “Whose name did he give you?”
He felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end, as he walked over and handed her the note. He watched her face when she opened it, and wondered what thoughts were running through her head. Whatever they were, she displayed no sign of them in her expression or body language. Maybe Bob had got it wrong?
She glanced up from the note. Her unwavering eyes met his. “You came all the way here to give me a note given to you by some old fart? A note with my name on it? You shouldn’t have bothered.”
She thrust the note into his hands, and stormed past him.
“Charlie,” he said weakly.
She stopped, and looked back at him. Her lips twitched into a faint smile, and then she turned and walked out of the room.
He stood there for a moment, his mind trying to figure out the next step. He couldn’t believe Charlie was a part of this. Wouldn’t believe it. Bob must have heard wrong. Just looking into her eyes was enough for him to know that she could no way be involved.
He didn’t see Charlie as he left the strip joint, and was thankful for that. He didn’t think he could stand to see her wounded expression again.
The night air felt colder now. Everything did. He could still see the look of sadness on Charlie’s face, when she handed him back the note. The notion that she would set him up was absurd, and yet he had taken the time to contemplate it. Who would be next on his list? Who else would be tainted by his accusations, before he got any answers?
A beggar was sat by a cash point on the street. A blanket covered most of him, or her. Brad threw a coin down by the person’s side, unaware of the flicker of red that appeared for a second when the blanket got caught in the breeze. He continued onward, not knowing where he would next go. Charlie was a dead end, in more ways than one. He turned down an alleyway. He couldn’t stand to be amongst the crowds of people.
Should he go back to Bob? He had already tried his luck in getting Charlie’s name, but then why would Bob give him Charlie’s name if he didn’t think her somehow involved?
He heard footsteps behind him. Damn! How had he not noticed he was being followed? The next moment, something struck him on the back of his head. His feet buckled from under him, and he felt something warm trickle down his scalp.
Everything went dark…
His head was banging. What happened?
He opened his eyes, but was met only by darkness. They had put a blindfold over his eyes, and a gag in his mouth for good measure. He could hear footsteps, slow and deliberate. There was more than one of them, whoever they were. There was a strange scrunching sound to the footsteps though, somehow recent in his memory, and the smell of chemicals that was all too familiar.
The blindfold was removed from his eyes, and he instantly knew why the smell was so familiar, and why the footsteps had sounded so strange. He was back in the warehouse, the chemical stench that of the petrol he had planned to use to set the place alight and the scrunching sound of shards of glass now resting on the ground like a carpet of snow.
The light was faint, but this only made the three shapes in red stand out all the more. He felt a chill run down his spine. The Three Sisters. But he didn’t moan or show any indication of the fear he felt. He wouldn’t give them the satisfaction. If they had wanted to kill him they would have done it by now. But what could they want from him?
One of the Three Sisters stepped closer to him. Which one was it? It was impossible to tell. In their red, skin tight, leather outfits who knew where one began and another one ended.
He grimaced when the gag was removed from his mouth.
He didn’t speak. But neither did they, and that was what filled him with cold dread. He chuckled in his head at what someone would think if they were to walk in on such a strange scene - him tied up, and three females dressed all in red leather. They could be forgiven for thinking it some kind of freaky sex game.
He tried to meet their gazes, to show them he wasn’t scared. But he was scared, a sensation he had felt on rare occasions in recent times. He couldn’t stand to have their piercing eyes on him any longer.
“Whatever it is you want from me, I don’t have it.”
A loud cackle of laughter escaped the throat of one of the Three Sisters. It echoed around the warehouse.
“Who said we wanted anything from you?” It was the one stood before him that spoke, an undeniable level of sternness to her voice.
He grappled with the rope that held his hands. The last act of a desperate man, he thought.
“If you don’t want anything from me then why am I here?” He could feel his anger rising with each word he spoke. “Why the hell did you hit me on the head and bring me here?”
The Sister who had spoken walked up to him, and punched him in the face. His head bobbed backwards and forwards, only for another hit to connect with his nose. He felt blood gush down his mouth.
He laughed, and it seemed to take The Three Sisters by surprise for a moment. He didn’t know why he was laughing. It wasn’t a funny situation by any means. But he felt it was either that, or allowing the terror he felt to take control of him.
Better to laugh in the face of danger.
Or so he thought, until a right hook connected.
His vision blurred, by what he thought must be blood coming from a cut above his eye. With his head slumped backwards, he noticed one of the other Three Sisters to the side removing a cloth from a table, to reveal an assortment of knives and other tools.
He felt his blood slowly turn cold. The Three Sisters watched him, as each tool was examined to determine which one would be first on the list.
And we have a winner, he thought dryly.
The Sister approached him, a sharp-edged saw in her hand, while the one who had punched him stepped aside.
“We don’t require any information from you, Brad.” Her voice was like nails being scraped on a blackboard. “We are not doing this because you hold some insight that will enlighten us. Far from it.” The Sister ran the saw sensually across her thigh, the sound of friction against leather. “You’ve done one too many favours, Brad. Got under the shoes of the wrong people.” The Sister exchanged glances with the other two. “Killed the wrong person, and now people in high places are taking notice.”
He wrestled with the ropes that held him. “I never killed anybody,” he shouted.
The Sister faltered at his words.
It was true. He had never killed anybody. He had allowed people to think he had taken people’s lives, but who hadn’t gone to lengths to allow certain beliefs to manifest. It was part of the job.
“Whoever it is you’re after, you’ve got the wrong person.”
“I can assure you, Brad, we are never wrong.”
The Sister brought the saw down on his thigh violently. He yelled in pain, and then again when the saw was brought down for a second time. It was a piercing sensation that reverberated throughout his body.
He tried to move away from another strike, and as he did so he noticed one of the dominant red shapes in the muted light fall to the ground, closely followed by a second. The Sister who had struck him with the saw had also noticed. He saw a familiar shape coming toward the remaining sister.
Charlie’s skill - against an unsuspecting Sister it was all well and good, but when a Sister had you in her sights no amount of close proximity teleportation could save your ass.
Charlie advanced on the remaining sister, who held the saw aloft ready for its next taste of blood.
She had come to save him. He had doubted her, and yet here she was trying to save his skin, and putting her own skin at risk at the same time. He had to do something.
The remaining Sister stood a yard to the side of him. He could see a mad glint in her eyes, and a touch of doubt in Charlie’s. He wrestled with the bindings on his hands, but they held strong. Desperation made him rock the chair from side to side, slowly at first until he gathered momentum. The moment Charlie came before the remaining Sister, his chair toppled over and he collided with the Sister. Charlie took the opportunity to tackle the unbalanced Sister to the ground, and the saw escaped the Sister’s grasp.
The Sister fell down next to him. Her cold stare met his, and he felt as if he was staring into the depths of hell.
Charlie retrieved the saw. Her gaze held no hint of doubt any longer. She moved to finish the Sister off, and the words that escaped him were more a shock to him than anyone else.
“What are you talking about?” She said in disbelief. She placed the saw at the throat of the Sister.
“Something’s wrong,” he said. “Don’t kill her.”
Charlie pursed her lips. “But they’ll kill you, and then they’ll kill me.”
“No,” he said. He knew the rules, knew how to play the game. “Killing them won’t get me any closer to finding out who set me up, and who really needs to pay for this.”
Charlie seemed to battle with the notion for a time, before begrudgingly removing the saw from the Sister’s throat. She then brought her foot down on the Sister’s face, and three figures dressed in red lay unconscious on the warehouse floor.
He looked up at her in puzzlement.
“Hey, I’m not taking any chances.”
He laughed. “Think you could untie me?”
“Haven’t I done enough?”
She untied him, and they stood silent for a second. He looked down at the Three Sisters. “I wonder if anyone has seen what they look like?” He met Charlie’s gaze, and added, “Probably not the best idea.”
When they left the warehouse it was still dark, perhaps a few hours before dawn. Brad was surprised. He had thought he had been knocked out for longer. He limped by Charlie’s side, as they walked to the place where he had left his car the night before. He used the sleeve of his shirt to wipe some of the blood from his face. He could only imagine how much of a mess he must look.
They didn’t speak a word to one another, but having her there by his side was a comfort. He had not realised how much he had missed her until now.
“What made you come back for me?”
The flicker of a smile appeared on her face. “Memories, I guess.”
He nodded. “We did have some good times.”
She met his gaze, but then looked away. “What will you do now? They’re just going to keep coming for you.”
He looked up at the opaque moon. It had been one of the strangest nights of his life, but it wasn’t over yet. “I don’t think they’ll come after me again.” She paused at his expression. “But I know where I’m going next, and you’re more than welcome to join me.”
Her eyes narrowed.
The bar was empty. Only the barman Brad remembered from earlier that night was there. He wore the same anxious expression, and was quick to direct them to the far side of the bar. Brad told Charlie to grab a drink and wait at the bar. She protested at first, but stopped when she saw he meant it. He walked over to the table where Bob was sat. His face was nestled in a newspaper, his stance relaxed despite Brad’s arrival.
To think he had once admired the man.
He sat down at the table, and waited for Bob to protest his innocence. Of course, any pleas of remorse never came. He should have known the old guy would be too stubborn for that.
“You made it, then?” Bob said, his face hidden behind the newspaper.
Brad waved his hand over to the barman, who arrived seconds later with two glasses of bourbon. He took a sip, enjoying the way it burnt his throat, and then surveyed the man before him. He found it hard to believe this was someone he had once counted as a friend. In his line of work you couldn’t afford to have many friends, and he had lost one tonight. He looked over to Charlie at the bar. But he had also regained one.
“You taught me well.”
Bob smiled crookedly “You were always too good for your own good. I should have known I couldn’t play you false.”
He leaned back into his chair. “Why did you do it?” He was surprised at the calmness in his voice.
Bob waved his hand dismissively. “Why do any of us do it?” His face seemed to suddenly become haggard, as if the years had caught up on him in one foul swoop. “I ran out of favours. I’m too old for this shit. I can’t keep up with all the young guns going about these days.” He wrinkled his brow. “But I couldn’t let you go without repaying your favour.”
He gave a bitter laugh. “That’s why you helped me escape at the factory?”
“A favour unpaid will only come back to bite you in the ass.”
Brad took another sip from his drink. “A good rule to live by,” he said, but he couldn’t shake a nagging thought. “Why me?”
“Convenience,” Bob answered in a flat tone. “I killed someone I shouldn’t have, and then the Three Sisters were on my ass. They took little persuading in thinking it was you though,” he said, and drank down his bourbon in one go. “In fact,” he said, “here they come now.”
Brad’s head spun to the bar. The Three Sisters were approaching them. He saw Charlie was safe at the bar, and was thankful for that. He felt the wound on his leg. He had used a spare t-shirt from his car to cover the wound. The Sisters’ clothing had tasted little blood this night, but things were about to get messy.
He turned to face his old friend, who seemed to be in good spirits at The Three Sisters’ arrival. Brad’s expression became grim at the knowledge of what it was he had to do.
The Three Sisters stopped before their table. He was glad for the faint lighting in the bar. He didn’t want to see more of them than he had to.
“Looks like time has run out for you, Brad,” Bob said with a glint in his eye. He picked up the newspaper from the table, and began reading. Brad’s gaze flickered from the Three Sisters to his old friend.
He still couldn’t help but wonder how it had come to this.
When he spoke, his words carried no hint of pleasure. “I believe you owe me a favour.”
It was only a second before a violent rustling began from where Bob was sitting. The newspaper he held shook vigorously in his grip.
“No,” Bob said, breathlessly. He didn’t lower the newspaper.
Brad took a last swig from his glass, and then rose to his feet. “I’m going to miss you, old friend,” he said, and then gave a faint nod to the Three Sisters.
He went to the bar to get Charlie, and they began to leave. He didn’t turn back when the screams began, or when the man who had once been his friend began screaming his name.
That bridge was long since broken.
He and Charlie walked out into the first light of a new day. He regarded her out of the corner of his eye. They had been up all night, but she looked as good as ever.
“What next?” she said.
His lips twitched into a smile. “There’s a guy at the Empress hotel who owes me a favour. Penthouse sound okay to you?”