The day was December 26th, 1989; the day after Christmas.
I groaned and pushed the covers off my body the moment the bright sun made its appearance through our window. In the daytime, the sun's rays reflected heavily off the hotel. This always ended up creating a shimmer effect that was beautiful to those outdoors...but painfully blinding to those indoors. It's the easiest way of telling if a diamond is truly a diamond and not, say, cubic zirconia. While the latter can still reflect light, it ain't nearly as bright as the real deal. Plus, light often did funky things to cubic zirconia—like form random ass rainbows. Alexander had told us early on that it was highly recommended that we kept the curtains closed while the sun was out, lest we lose our eyesight in just the first month of living in Casa do Diaño. It certainly helped us maintain our vision while also keeping the room reasonably lit, but it was still bright enough to annoy you in the early morning.
Seriously, I wanna meet the drooling retard that thought it was a good idea to build a hotel outta goddamn diamond.
I wanna shake his hand and twist his wrist so hard that it snaps off his arm.
Heidi fell asleep not too long after we were finished with our romantic romp the night before. And, judging by the light snoring, I'd say she slept like a baby throughout the entire night. I considered this a good thing. It meant that she believed me when I said that I'd find a way to provide for our new family. It would've been so easy for her to completely discount everything I said. After all, I already broke the one major promise I made to her years ago. Whether her choosing to trust my word this time around was legitimate or more so an obligation to our kid was beyond me. All that mattered was that her mind was at ease, no pesky thoughts chipping away at her sanity as she tried to catch some much needed ZZZ's.
Unfortunately for me, my mind wasn't at ease.
Don't get me wrong, it wasn't because I lacked the confidence in myself to make these promises a reality. I told you before—I'm a tough sonuvabitch. There ain't many things I can't do. And when I say I'm gonna do something, I do it and do it well. This ain't me talking outta my ass, either. I know damn well just how capable I am of making dreams a reality.
I guess when I say that my mind wasn't at ease, I actually mean to say my mind was in “work” mode when it should've been in “rest” mode. Instead of closing my eyes and shutting down, my eyes remained wide open—mind revved up like a race car. It was one of those times when the thoughts in my head didn't have proper words to describe their nature, so my eyes began collecting external elements to help assist me during my mental press conference with myself. At that time, I chose to stare at the rough diamond ceiling of our hotel room.
Did you know that diamond looked a lot like metal in the dark? You'd think that the easiest design to pull off regarding a diamond ceiling was just one flat, sculpted sheet with maybe the pointy end smack dab in the middle. But no, they decided to go with a sorta “tiled” look in which a bunch of diamonds the size of my hand were rested together in horizontal rows all the way down. The result of this design choice? Silver stones forming a nearly black, burned texture in certain spots. It kinda resembled a collage of zinc nuggets all glued together. It produced a glitter effect if you turned your head a certain way so it looked like the moonlight was reflecting off of them.
Dull, hardened metal wasting away in the dark; hidden from the outside world. Only once they see the light do they become beautiful gems. As gems, they gain the power to entice and/or eviscerate anyone they so choose. But honestly, this could be said about anything crafted outta some kind of expensive material. The human race is materialistic and selfish to its very core—we're pigs that learned to stand on two legs. Our ability to comprehend rational thought often clashes with our inborn obsession with shiny objects. A diamond ceiling and a quartz necklace are one in the same to us. We are at the eternal mercy of these mineral gods.
It's almost poetic, in a way.
I envied the power this poorly designed ceiling possessed.
I wasn't gonna rest until that power was mine.
And Leroy Barris was the man that was gonna help me get the sleep I needed.
Needless to say, the hours washed away like dirt in a storm. Once that sun came up, I was up and ready to begin this adventure once and for all. The room was a little chilly due to my lack of clothing, but the central heating made it manageable. I picked up a pair of black jeans, plaid boxers, white socks, and a black wife-beater before stepping into the bathroom.
Despite it being around six in the morning, I moved like I was in a hurry. I tossed my clothes onto the floor and jumped into the shower. I wasted no time pondering the meaning of life or any other pointless shower-time philosophy—just focusing strictly on washing up so I could be outta there in five or ten minutes. It ain't too hard if you know how to do it. Soak, lather, scrub, and rinse all in that order with no interruptions from that overly talkative brain of yours. Pissing in the shower don't count as an interruption, though; you can do that while doing any of the other steps.
Don't judge me; you know you've done it, too.
After stepping out and giving my whole body a quick dry job with a towel, I got dressed. Before leaving the bathroom, I stepped over to the mirror. My intense reflection stared back at me as I brushed my teeth and contemplated whether or not I should shave this morning. I decided against it; I still didn't have much of a beard going and I needed whatever hair was on my face to keep me warm in the brick weather outside. Upon re-entering the bedroom, Heidi's snoring hit my ears. My lips curled into a satisfied grin. “Showtime,” I said aloud to nobody in particular.
Myra was stuffed into my pants.
The laces of my Converses were securely tied.
The olive-green bomber jacket that Alexander handed me outta the hotel's lost and found box was now on my back.
My box of cigarettes, my lighter, and a couple .45 rounds were stuffed into my jacket pockets.
Black, fingerless gloves from the same lost and found box went on my hands.
My black aviators were shielding my eyes from the diamond-reflected sunbeams.
I grabbed the keys to the snowmobile.
After bending down to give Heidi one last kiss on the forehead, I was outta there.
Once I was outside the hotel, it didn't take too long for the now familiar brick breeze of a Casa do Diaño winter to hit my mug. The snow wasn't as deep as it had been a few days ago, but any regular vehicle would still struggle trying to navigate through it. Luckily, one quick glance over at the parking lot told me that nobody had jacked my jacked snowmobile.
I was about three feet from my ride when I saw a familiar face popping his head up in the seat. It was a little head, covered in black fur. His large, orange eyes stared at me. I stopped right next to the snowmobile, crossing my arms.
“Beat it, pal. I ain't got time for anymore daydreams.” The little black kitten let out a soft mew, now standing on his hind-legs. “No. I got shit that needs to be done.” He tilted his head at me, trying to charm his way into my heart. “What do you want? Food? Look, I ain't got any food to give you, alright?” He just kept staring at me. Quickly losing my patience, I lifted him up and tossed him onto the ground. Like any cat would, he landed on his feet.
I climbed aboard the snowmobile, pulling a cigarette as well as my lighter out of my pocket.
After lighting up, I put the lighter back and inserted the key into the ignition.
One swift turn and that baby was fired up and ready to go.
I squeezed the throttle and away I was on my search for the black man posing as a red silhouette.
My journey to find Leroy Barris felt like it lasted an eternity.
The tedium of searching made me feel like I was on the run again.
Granted, my search eventually ended.
But not without a list of wild bullshit to come before then.
As I roamed the streets on my snowmobile, I pieced together a mental blueprint of my search route for this man. Leroy was the first person I was ever able to communicate with through my freaky visions...and even then, he was four years old when he heard me. But this made no sense. The vision mentioned that he was four years old in the year 1974, which meant he was born in the year 1970—just one year after I was born. Meaning that around the time he heard my voice in his head, I, myself, would've only been five years old. And the day Leroy reached out to me on the Princess Moura was the same exact day that I received his message on said ship—so no time lapse there. Meaning that Leroy, right now, was probably nineteen years old. But I didn't talk to his four year old self until nearly a week after his nineteen year-old self did that whole...ugh.
This shit made my head hurt.
So I decided that the simplest path to take was to visit all of the places he visited in my vision.
Which meant my first stop wasn't too far from Hotel de Diamantes.
Trailing along the frozen roads of Oeste District, I saw a couple of humanoid-looking lifeforms walking around in full winter gear. By the texture of their faces, I was surprised to see that these were normal people and not horny ice dames. Just how normal these cats were was a question I didn't care nearly enough about to answer. I gathered most, if not all of them, were business owners by the way they pompously strutted around the small shop buildings. Some were ordering what appeared to be their teenage part-timers to shovel snow outta their portion of the street. However, most were ordering their teenage part-timers to take the Christmas lights off their roofs.
Ah, the bittersweet end of the quote-on-quote “most wonderful time of the year”; also known as the “After Christmas Blues”. After preparing your house all month long for a one day holiday, the party soon ends and you're now left with the grisly clean-up job. The kids got all their toys that a bunch of Chinese conveyor-belt monkeys shat out at the last second, ate all of their Hershey's Kisses that you stuffed in their stockings just before waking them up, and spent at least two hours crying because of the one gift that Santa forgot to bring them. There ain't anymore cheer in your heart; just disappointment and a crippling sense of emptiness. But not for me; my festive spirit no-showed for the special holiday, but boy did he make an entrance the next day! This was made very evident when I arrived to the infamous backstreet where Leroy's parents were gunned down by French gangsters.
The Great Khan, phase one.
I killed the motor on the snowmobile and hopped off. My cigarette had been smoked down to the filter, so I tossed it onto the snow covered road. One thorough look around told me that the area hadn't changed too much since 1974. All in all, I spotted three differences: snow was everywhere, the sun was out, and no dead bodies were oozing blood on the road. I stuffed my hands into my jacket pockets and walked over to the alleyway.
Yeah, the same one that horse came from.
I closely examined the brick walls, looking for any kind of clue of an otherworldly portal. Hey, that horse had to come from somewhere, right? As much as these celestial beings loved materializing outta nothing, I continued to cling onto the hope that at least one of them required portals to get from place to place. After all, Leroy had to use a portal to communicate with me. If this “Great Goddess Danu” cunt was really great, she would've just clopped her hoof and poof! One cynical Yankee bastard specially delivered to a Mr. Leroy Barris! Would've certainly saved both me and him the trouble, you know?
I didn't find any special markings, but I did hear a tune coming from inside the wall. No, it wasn't creepy, cult chanting either. In fact, it sounded vaguely like the very end of some modern rock song. What the song was, I couldn't tell; it quickly transitioned into another song not long after I put my ear against the wall. The new song appeared to be modern rock'n'roll as well, but it also had a kinda bluesy sound to it. Judging by the style of the guitar playing, I made the educated guess that it was Stevie Ray Vaughan.
“Well now tell me darlin', may I have a talk with you?”
Yerp, Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Thanks for your taste in music, Roy.
“Woah—tell me darlin', may I have a talk with you?”
Underneath the lyrics, I caught the somewhat audible sound of clinking glass.
Bar; probably a real dive, too.
“Because it won't be long before our true love will be through...”
I stepped away from the wall and made the decision to check the joint out. Perhaps somebody inside could point me in the right direction? Though, it was hard to imagine why Leroy would wanna come back to this area after what happened to his folks. Maybe it was a symbolic sorta thing? Retrace his steps and get on his level in the most literal sense? Who the fuck even knows with this island?
The name on the front-end of the building read “Le Coq Enivré”. I didn't know what that meant, but it looked French. Meaning this might've been Louis Couture's old place before he got iced—literally. Hmm. Perhaps Leroy would have a reason to visit this shindig, after all. I stepped inside, instantly being met with the strong odor of spilled whiskey and cigarette smoke.
“I'm determined to know...little girl, you comin' home...come on home, baby.”
Stevie's electric guitar wailed for all of the drunken patrons. I removed my aviators and clipped them to the neckline of my wife-beater. Once my eyesight adjusted to the lighting, I took a moment to see what I was gonna be dealing with today. Despite it being really early in the morning, there were already a bunch of low-lives drinking at the bar as well as a couple of tables off by the walls. On one hand, the bar scene was fairly cliché by American standards; bunch of bozos that looked around my old man's age drowning their sorrows in happy juice. Whether it be over getting sacked at their job or their old lady giving them shit for breathing in the same room as them, these guys clearly had nothing to lose being in this shithole at such an early hour. Just a bunch of old, bitter men waiting to die with the rest of humanity.
However, on the other hand, American bars typically don't have ivory girls dancing around the lobby. Oh, you thought the naked ice broads was the end of that ordeal? No sir! There's also statue gals that enjoy rubbing their hands all over their bodies. The only other difference with these girls was that they were wearing clothes—granted it was very little, but still clothes, nonetheless. Of course, all this did was make them look like clothing store mannequins brought to life by Dr. Frankenstein.
To tell you the truth, I found them to be a little creepy.
I dunno, man.
I guess some guys get off to this sorta thing, maybe?
I personally prefer women of the warm, fleshy variety.
To each his own, I suppose.
Stuffing my hands back into my jacket pockets, I made my way to the bar. A couple of eyeless ivory broads watched me as I passed them. One even attempted to tease me by tugging on the waistband of her red panties. I forced my eyes away from her, trying to focus on the scruffy, silver-haired bartender wiping his counter.
“Now now listen to me baby—”
I took a seat at the bar.
“—while I hold your hand—”
Me and the bartender locked eyes.
“Don't want anything from you but be your lovin' man—now tell me darlin', may I have a talk with you?”
His eyebrows narrowed.
He knew I wasn't there for a drink.
“Because the words I have to tell you, they will linger through the years...I love you, honey.”
Mr. Greybeard leaned over the counter. “Bonjour. Est-ce que tu parles français?” I cocked an eyebrow at him. I understood what “bonjour” and “français” meant—I even had an idea of what “parles” meant since there was a similar word in Italian, but nothing else. However, that was enough to gather what he was asking me. “I doan speak French, dude. Sawrry.” He made a confused grunting noise. “Uh, um—parli italiano?” I asked, hoping to find some kinda middle ground with this guy. He just tilted his head, not saying another word.
That was just great.
I didn't speak his language and he didn't speak mine.
“Look pal, I'm tryin' to find somebody. Tall black guy with a kinda Irish soundin' accent. Goes by the name “Leroy”. I was wonderin' if you—” He crossed his arms, now grilling me slightly. He clearly didn't have the patience to listen to some foreigner talk bullshit to him in a tongue he didn't understand. I, myself, didn't have the patience to explain something simple to this stupid asshole. At some point during this interaction, Stevie's song ended and was replaced with the opening riff of some other rock song. “Me,” I pointed to myself, “Look. For. Man.” I held my hand up. “Tall!” I pinched the flesh on the back of my hand. “Skin!” I put my finger on the dark, wooden counter. “THIS color!”
The old bastard snorted. “Commandez un verre et fermez la bouche.” I bit my lip, growling loudly. “Escargot! Baguette! Hon hon hon—I'll fuck your hairy wife, you lousy soap-dodger!” I shouted after banging my fist against the counter. This outburst successfully pissed him off enough to grab a vodka bottle and bang it against the counter. “Fils dégoûtant d'une prostituée!” The alcohol went flying all over the bar, bringing a wide grin to my face. The room went silent save for what I now recognized as “Gypsy Road” playing on the jukebox. These drunks were sober enough to know what was about to go down.
Finally, a language I can understand.
As he held the broken bottle up to my face, I laughed wickedly. “So you understand me when I'm bein' racist, huh?” I whipped Myra out and pointed her at the bartender. “Well then, you stupid cheese fucker, you might as well drop that bottle and back away from this fight. After all, givin' up is all you Frenchies are good at.”
He screamed and leaped over the counter, tackling me to the ground.
And so the bar brawl was on—even with our own fight music...sorta.
“My gypsy road can't take me home!”
The angry Frenchman lifted the bottle up, ready to bash my brains in.
“I drive all night just to see the light!”
I attempted to fire a point-blank shot at his face, but the cocksucker slashed my hand with that fucking bottle of his—cutting right through the fabric on my glove.
“My gypsy road can't take me home!”
“Argh! Sonuva—” I growled, dropping the gun as my blood leaked from the wound.
“I keep on pushin' 'cuz it feels...”
Before he could land a blow on my face, I headbutted him hard.
He yelped and rolled offa me. I took the opportunity to grab my gun and return to my feet. As the song continued in the background, the old man lifted himself up to find me standing over him, pointing my .45 revolver right between his eyes. He growled loudly. “Vous êtes un lâche pour apporter une arme de poing à une bagarre!” I cocked the gun. “Fanculo il francese,” I said just before hawking a large wad of spit on his chest.
You're thinking I had the sonuvabitch beat at this point, right?
You thought wrong, pal.
Just as I was about to pull the trigger, the bartender started to shake—I mean really shake, too. His face turned as purple as an eggplant, veins popping outta his forehead and neck. The second foam started spewing outta his mouth, I knew some serious bullshit was about to happen. I quickly got away from him as the entire front of his body just sorta burst with one fast, but excessively bloody explosion. While everyone else in the bar screamed in horror, my initial reaction was confusion. Of course, I nearly dropped Myra in shock once I found out why this had happened to this man. Once his life essence was done splattering the walls, his skeleton rose from outta his meat blanket.
His motherfucking skeleton.
When I say “skeleton”, I ain't talking about the quote-on-quote “spooky” kind that you dress up as for Halloween. I'm talking muscles still attached and vital organs visible to anyone with a pair of eyes. He let out this loud shriek that sounded like the mix between an eagle's caw and a dragon's mighty roar. The sorta-corpse then turned to face me, intestines drooping down below his pelvic region.
Lemme tell you guys, I ain't one to have a weak stomach when seeing shit like this. However, I'd be lying if I said I didn't nearly throw up when looking at this walking freakazoid. I think it was the smell that did it for me. Imagine having a fish tank filled with piss, shit, bile, and vomit. Leave it sitting for a few days with the container on. Then open it once you can clearly see that all of your fish are deader than George Washington. That's probably close to what this...thing smelled like.
“Souffre ma colère, homme sans valeur,” the skeleton stated in a deep, demonic voice. Shaking, my body reacted to the situation by automatically pointing Myra at the fucker and blasting a hole through his heart. The organ blew up, but the carcass remained standing. “Shit!” I hissed under my breath, now aimlessly firing at this guy. All that my chest shots did to him was push him back a little.
I bit my bottom lip, shoving my hand into my pocket to grab a handful of bullets.
“Mortel inutile!” the freak screeched, now lunging at me. Eyes widening, I turned away from him and rushed toward the door, hurriedly reloading. Right as I finished, the animated meatbag tackled me face-first onto the floor. Managing to maintain a tight grip on Myra, I looked behind me and saw him crawling on top of me. “Mourir!” he wailed. “Oh fuck this!” I shouted, trying my damnedest to pull out from under him. I got a little ways, but the bastard had a tight grip on my feet. Turning my body over, I managed to wiggle my feet outta my Converses and back away from him. Not wasting another moment, I pointed Myra at his skull and fired three times.
First shot went through his left eye socket.
Second shot put a hole in his forehead.
Third shot made his brains spew from the back of his head.
And just like that, the sonuvabitch fell over dead.
With a deep breath, I decocked Myra and stuck her back into my jeans. Upon getting back on my feet, I stood over the body and admired my handiwork. Of course, I didn't quite have the appetite for tasting this jerk-off's blood at that moment. You understand.
My eyes then wandered around the room, examining the horrified drunks all watching me like a movie. A couple of guys had their jaws wide open. One dude rushed to a trashcan to blow chunks. Even the statue babes were covering their mouths in shock. Each individual in the room had their own unique reaction. However, there was one universal truth they could all agree on; they didn't know if what they just saw was the most disgusting thing they'd ever seen, or the most awesome.
I eyeballed one guy hiding underneath a table. I couldn't help but snicker at the pathetic sight. Poor bastard looked on the verge of crying for his mommy. His thighs were tightly pressed together, knees up to his chest. The worst part about this? He was in full uniform—military uniform...US military uniform. This worthless chump was a former soldier, and here he was cowering away while some unknown lowlife single-handedly takes care of the immediate threat. Support the armed forces my ass.
“Hey you! The schmuck hidin' in plain view!” The soldier's eyes widened as the lump in his throat rolled. “Get your ass over here,” I ordered. He nodded and reluctantly crawled out of his safe space. I watched him like an owl stalking a mouse. Facial expression never changing, head not turning in any other directions, eyes barely blinking, no distractions—the stage was all his and I was his director. My gaze never left him as he slowly approached me on his hands and knees. Oh boy was he being extra slow. “What are ya, a stripper tryin' to get some bills outta me? I got places I gotta be, buddy. Hurry the fuck up!”
Once he was finally at my feet, he stopped and looked up at me. “Gimme those boots of yours.” He gave me a look. “You heard me. It's snowin' outside and my Converses are tainted with the stench of this freakshow.” I bent down to his level. “Besides, I think I earned those boots more than you earned those pretty little metals, am I right?”
Tears began to stream from his face. He wanted to stand up for himself—put me in my place. But he knew he couldn't; not after all these people witnessed his cowardice firsthand. So he said nothing, only whimpering as he removed his black combat boots. I took them from him and proceeded in putting them on. They were just my size, though this Cinderella wasn't gonna get his happily ever after; not yet, anyway.
After tying the laces, I stood up and headed to the door.
I put my aviators back over my eyes and I exited the bar.
The remainder of the 26th was spent exploring the entire southern region of Oeste District. I had hoped that I could find some more familiar hotspots. Even if it meant not finding my man, it could've at least given me some kinda clue on where he might be or where he would be in the upcoming future. Sadly, my search came up short.
On the 27th, I traveled even further south—all the way down to Sur District. After all, it was the second place little Leroy visited upon his arrival into Casa do Diaño. What he had seen as a child was a beautiful meadow with miles upon miles of pretty flowers and crops. Leroy saw tranquility, peace and, most importantly, hope of a better tomorrow.
What I saw, however, was the polar opposite. While Leroy left Sur District with a strong sense of faith, I felt nothing but bitter-sweetness. Granted, it was probably due to the snow covering up the entirety of the meadow. After all, they say certain mental illnesses can be triggered by something as simple as hopelessly snowy weather. But even then, it seemed too...empty. Too quiet. I could hear my heart beat inside my chest as if it were a drum. There was no lonelier place I'd ever been to than this meadow. The only place on the planet that rivaled Sur District in this department was my holding cell back in Brooklyn—courtesy of being busted for the murders of Benny Murray and Jason Frisk. After walking around for about an hour in a half, I decided I couldn't stand the silence anymore. So I hopped back onto my snowmobile and returned to the hotel.
The date was now December 28th; day three into my search for Leroy Barris. Heidi was feeling particularly emotional that morning, whining about me leaving her all by herself whole days at a time. I tried to assure her that it was for a good cause, but she wasn't too easily convinced. So I made her the deal that, after I was through for the day today, I'd spend the next couple of days at the hotel with her—up until New Years, at least. She was satisfied with the arrangement and went back to sleep, allowing me to freshen up and begin my day.
Since I'd already explored Sur District and the southern half of the city, my agenda for this day was to explore the northern portion of Oeste District. The ol' snowmobile was highly fuel-efficient, only running on fumes once since I'd claimed it off that dead gangster by the dock. The problem? All the gas stations in the city were closed because of the weather. So needless to say, I had to siphon gas from some poor bastard's snow-covered Mustang. No harm done for me, though; it ensured that this baby would be ready to continue my ride around this frozen metropolis.
The drive was long and brick.
But just as the sky was beginning to get dark, I came across a familiar sight while cruising by some crappy apartment complexes.
A very familiar sight.
A “this is where me and Leroy first—chronologically—met” kinda familiar.
I pulled off to the side of the road and killed the snowmobile's motor.
The Great Khan, phase two.
Naturally, the first thing I did after arriving was step into the alleyway where Leroy's four year old self was attacked by Louis Couture. I remembered being startled by the scene that had occurred. Here you had a little boy just minding his own business when some scumbag decides to put a gun to his head. Don't worry, I know exactly what you're thinking. I'm a crazy bastard, but I ain't forgetful—not by a long shot. So I'll go ahead and say it for you: I have no room to talk considering that the entire reason I was in Casa do Diaño in the first place was because I did the exact same thing to Jacob Summers.
But, see, there were two major differences between my situation and Louis'. Leroy was fucking four years old—a small child. Jacob couldn't of been any more than five or six years younger than me. Louis got his ass massacred by his victim. My victim died like a bitch. In conclusion? Jacob wasn't important enough to live. Had I not intervened, he would've eventually graduated from high school, went to college on a football scholarship, got injured, lost his scholarship, dropped outta college, hit hard times, got addicted to drugs, lost his girlfriend, and ultimately committed suicide by hanging himself in his dirty motel room that he could barely afford. He was better off dying while he was still happy rather than waiting to die when he was thoroughly fed up with his life. I did this kid a favor.
Leroy, on the other hand, was obviously meant to do some incredible things. He was rescued by a mysterious horse goddess the night his parents were murdered. Soon after, he was blessed with special powers after getting to experience life in what he considered to be the happiest place on the planet. To top it all off, he was the first and only person that was able to hear my voice as I watched his life unfold in the shadows.
So call me a hypocrite all you want, but I stand by my decision.
Jacob Summers was meant to die.
Leroy Barris wasn't.
I walked around slowly, dragging my fingertips along the wall. The new combat boots made walking in the snow less of a burden, as the hardened leather kept my feet much warmer than my old Converses did. And while practicality was essential for winter, it was also nice to be able to look down and be reminded of my bar victory just days ago. If there was something to take away from all three of the visions I'd seen regarding this island, it was that surviving here was a major challenge. So much of a challenge, in fact, that the celestial tools running the show felt the need to give us freaky powers so we could defend ourselves.
Jerrika was a werewolf.
Dave had his demon steed.
Even Leroy had the power to control water.
What did I have?
A knocked-up girlfriend who's stomach lit up like a lantern the day we left for Casa do Diaño?
Both fairly useless powers, if I do say so myself.
And yet here I am, still alive and kicking.
You bet your ass I was gonna wear these boots like a motherfucking badge of honor!
Once I got to the end of the alleyway, I turned around and walked back while still using my fingertips as metaphorical metal detectors. Around the end of the vision, Danu had told Leroy that I was near. He understood the message very well; enough that he had the stupid horse bitch force a red light outta my mouth just so he could tell me to find him. The sonuvabitch even left a nasty burn on my arm during that interaction. He knew I was on the hunt for him. If there was any place he'd leave a clue for me, surely it would've been here. Right?
I felt up and down the walls on both sides of this alleyway
I put my ear against one wall to see if I could hear anything.
Not a peep.
So I tried the other wall.
As a last resort, I crouched down and dug through the snow on the ground—just in case.
Once again, no goddamn clues.
I stood up and kicked a wall out of frustration. “Where the hell are you, you overly dense bastard?” I said aloud to nobody. “Where are you?!” I shouted angrily a minute later. I mean, if he wanted to be found so badly, why couldn't he just simply give me an address and tell me to meet him there? Was this a test of some kind? Why was I being tested when he was the one that wanted to find me? Shouldn't his lousy ass be combing the island in search of me? I was gonna have to have a serious chat with this bozo once I got my hands on him.
I sighed heavily and walked out of the alleyway, stuffing my hands into my jacket pockets. Upon stepping back into the open street, my hand fished a smoke outta my pocket. I stuck the stick into my lips and then dug around for my lighter. After putting it up to my cigarette and clicking twice, I stopped when I heard something suspicious nearby.
“Connerie! I do not believe you!”
I stuffed the lighter and unlit cigarette back into my pocket and crept up to the source of the voice.
“Why would I lie to you? You know 'ow tough 'e was.”
I reached an alleyway entrance several feet from the one I'd visited and peeked inside.
“It does not seem possible! Gustave—'e 'ad ze power to defy death itself!”
People talking—French people talking. One was a heavy set guy, sporting a thick orange winter coat. The other was a slightly slimmer guy, but had a fucking butter-face on him. He wore a dirt-colored sweater to match his mop that looked like it hadn't been shampooed in a month. They both spoke like flamboyant poncies; you know, like most French people do? I think I was starting to hate these bastards as much as Leroy probably did. At least these bozos spoke English, though.
“It is true, mon amie. Gustave is dead. Killed in his own bar by a filthy guinea.”
A-hohoho—they were referring to me!
This was gonna get interesting!
“A quel point cet homme était-il puissant?”
“Not. Ze coward brought a gun to ze fight.”
The fat one hawked up a huge loogie and spit it onto the ground.
“Ridiculous! A powerful necromancer like Gustave killed by a mortal man?! Absurd!”
“Powerful necromancer”? Ain't that word used to describe dudes who fuck around with dead bodies or something? All this cuck did was use his freaky magic to make his innards attack me. If he was so powerful, how come didn't he use his fancy powers to resurrect himself after I shot him down? Methinks Ol' Gustave might've bent the truth just a little when he first decided to boast to his incredibly gullible friends about how strong he was.
And with that, they walked outta the opposite end of the alleyway.
I jogged back over to my snowmobile.
Once I saw them re-enter the street on their own snowmobiles, I trailed them.
I arrived at a large clothing store named “Habits Royaux” not long after they did, being sure to wait until they were outta sight before heading inside. After all, as I've said in the past, the key to being a good hunter is to avoid being seen or heard as much as possible. And the last time I went hunting, it was mano a mano. This time? There ain't no telling how many snail-biters were gonna be inside that shop. Plus, the way the two men were talking, it sounded like they had tricks up their own sleeves. I had to be prepared for just about anything lest I wanted my spine ripped outta my body and hung on the wall.
The sight that met my eyes was about what you'd expect walking into a clothing store in Casa do Diaño. Aisle upon aisle of clothing racks, rows catering to various groups of people. Women's clothes, men's clothes, clothes for babies, clothes for the elderly, clothes for Westerners, clothes for Easterners, shirts and jackets with slits in the back for wings—you need it, they probably had it. For those too cheap and lazy to manually browse through the aisles searching for cheap clothes, the store had its own team of slutty stone girls prancing around in outfits on sale as well as indiscriminately showing off various clothing options for customers. Regardless of your shopping style, this place had a fairly nice gig going on.
Shit, even I got distracted momentarily while surfing through some of the racks. Heidi always griped back home about me never wearing any nice clothes, so maybe I could invest in a suit one of these days? At least a good pair of dress pants or slacks; add some variety to my mostly jean-infested wardrobe. So I nabbed a folded pair of black dress pants in my size and hid them inside my bomber jacket.
After zipping up, I continued onward towards the French scoundrels talking shit about me. This proved to take longer than I thought it would. With all of the aisles, navigating through the store made me feel like I was in a goddamn corn maze. So many instances where I felt like I was getting somewhere only for me to end up right where I started.
Turn left in toddler apparel.
Then make another left.
Turn right once you reach the beginning of the adolescent girls section.
You went too far, buddo.
Back back an aisle or two.
Now you're in the elderly men's diaper aisle!
Shit, now you're in the aisle with all the bridal gowns.
Go start over.
It was maddening!
By the time I finally reached the end of the store, the door to the employee lounge was closed. But was it locked? How should I go about testing it? Should I jiggle the handle and see if it opens? Should I use Myra to destroy the door so that any lock would be deemed useless? Or maybe, just maybe, should I take the polite approach for once and knock—maybe pose as a customer?
Nope, fuck all that, I was gonna kick fucking the door in.
I backed up far enough and then ran to the door.
The door went swinging open.
Either I'm really strong, or this door wasn't locked.
I rushed into the room, hand ready to draw Myra if need be. My surroundings seemed pretty damn cluttered, like a bunch of suits had a wild office party the night before and then half-assed cleaning it up in the morning. Not a soul was around—not even an underpaid guard sitting on his ass, twiddling his thumbs while he obsessively counted down the minutes before he go home.
Needless to say, I was too late in reaching these lousy go-for-nothings before they turned around and hit the road again. But I didn't leave empty-handed. No sir. In fact, I found something that made the remainder of my search a no-brainer. While looking around the employee lounge for clues, I came across a rather bright pink note taped onto the door of the refrigerator. The hand-writing was neat and pretty—like a woman's. The note read:
“Baby, the boys and I will be gone for a couple of days. We're headed to Centro District tonight like you asked, but something else has come up, too. Gustave is dead...murdered the day after Christmas, not one hour after he opened up his bar for the day. We don't know much about his killer at the moment; just that he's Italian-American and he appears to be searching for a man...a man called “Leroy”. There's no telling if he's looking for OUR Leroy or not, but him targeting our crew looks awfully suspicious, don't you think? Once the new year is upon us, we'll be off to Norte District to follow up on Jean's report. Whether this man is Leroy Barris' friend or his foe, they're both better off dead. We won't let you down, mon amour.”
P.S. Your coat is back from the dry-cleaner's. I hung it in your closet. XOXO
P.S.S This is for Gustave, you stupid, belligerent fool.”
My eyebrow cocked upwards when I read the last part. Not two seconds afterward, I felt somebody's hands around my throat. “Wha—” My attacker started jerking me around hard, squeezing the shit outta my Adam's apple. I should've guessed that there was a rhyme and reason for their door being unlocked. “Bastard!” I growled, anxiously kicking behind me in the hopes of hitting this fucker where the sun don't shine. Sadly, all that this did for me was make me lose my footing and bring me halfway down to the ground.
At least I was able to get a better look at my attacker.
Stocky build, thick, tattooed arms, strong jawline, pale white skin, hooked nose, short brown hair—complexion putting him in his mid-thirties.
If I had to guess, former commando in the French Special Forces.
Or a professional wrestler—fuck, either or ain't gonna shock me.
I continued to kick at his thighs despite feeling my face begin to turn blue. This motherfucker was fast, dodging my blows. In desperation, I pulled Myra out and pointed her up at his face. “Pathétique!” the burly man roared, “can not fight like a real man. Needs a toy to fight 'is battles for 'im!”
Oh he did not just insult my babygirl!
“Oh yeah…?” I rasped through his clutches. In an instant, I flipped the revolver up, caught her by the barrel, and banged the stock against his right kneecap. “Argh!” he moaned, letting go of my throat just like that. That'll teach him to talk shit about my sexy lady.
I coughed and wheezed for a moment while he hopped around in pain. “Well, then...” I stood up slowly, unzipping my bomber jacket and letting it slide off my shoulders. It hit the floor along with the stolen pair of pants that was hidden underneath. “...you ignorant cocksucker...” I removed my aviators and put them on top of the refrigerator along with Myra. “Lets do this like real men, then.” He popped his neck and stepped closer to me. Once he stopped within inches of my torso, I made the startling realization that this putz was taller than me. This fact unsettled me not outta fear, but outta envy. You see, I'm right at six feet. In America, I've always been considered by most to be a pretty tall dude; tall enough to play professional basketball, I'd wager. Yet here was this hulking giant, hovering over me like I just climbed up his beanstalk. No matter; I was still gonna kick this bozo's ass.
He threw the first punch. I quickly dodged before socking him in the jaw. One loud groan and he was then in a frenzy, swinging his fists at me like a livid boxer. Guess I got more hits on him than he expected I would. He managed to push me into the refrigerator, most of his punches hitting my forehead and eye-sockets. I tried to push him away from me, but he kept belting me in face. Right after he snuffed my nose, I yelped and kneed him in the groin.
Once he was offa me, it was my turn to unleash a series of punches on his lily ass. To tell you the truth, I felt happy to be able to do this again—fighting with my fists, I mean. After all, it was my go-to method of inflicting damage onto others for years. If there was a brawl to be had, I was arriving with either a blunt weapon—like baseball bats or crowbars—or nothing at all. Regardless of route taken, there was always something incredibly therapeutic about ripping and bruising other guys' skin in the heat of a good ol' street fight. It was the simplest way to show my fellow man just how much I loathed them without having to waste time using words. Show 'em who's boss rather than tell 'em. Needless to say, acquiring Myra only darkened my already sick, twisted fantasies.
I got a little too into this beat-down, eventually finding myself on top of this guy. The cool sensation of my blood running from my nostrils down into my mouth only fueled my fire even more. One hand grabbed his collar and other wailed on his already ugly mug. Most of my hits went for his throat and mouth, though a couple of them were a bit overshot. However, I did manage to send a couple of his teeth flying—so I was pleased with myself, all the same.
Of course, this fucker being ex-military, thinking he was gonna stay down was an unrealistic call to make. He headbutted me, which made me roll onto the floor. Then he took the opportunity to straddle me, back-handing me across the face a couple of times. Man, for sissy jabs like his, he sure packed each slap with quite a bit of force. I had to cling on to the adrenaline that the fight was giving me in order to not let the daylights get knocked outta me.
Finally deciding to play his game too, I wrapped both of my hands around his neck. He gasped, trying to pry me offa him. But baby, I wasn't gonna choke him. Oh no. This tough sonuvabitch deserved an embarrassing death; one that his fellow goons would laugh about for years to come. Instead of letting him experience a hero's death like any veteran would want, I was gonna off him in a way that would make his ghost regret not building a protective fence around that ivory tower of his.
With that, I twisted his neck, snapping it.
The big, strong muscle of this lousy French operation died instantly on top of me.
I shoved him onto the floor and got back onto my feet. After wiping my bloody nose on my arm, my eyes shifted downward to the French corpse. The temptation to taste this asshole's blood was certainly there, but the taste of my own blood was already strongly present on my tongue. So I decided against it, vowing to sample my next victim's blood as compensation.
I spat blood on the body and hobbled over to my bomber jacket. Just as I bent down and held my hand out, a better idea surfaced in my head. These poncy assholes were gunning for both me and Leroy, formulating the plan to ice the relatively normal human with their biggest fighter while the rest of the chess pieces gunned after the man with superpowers. I, the “normal human” took this beefy bastard out all by myself...just like I took out Gustave all by myself. If I was gonna make a surprise entrance for them and Leroy, I needed to bring something that would spare me from having to flap my gums too much. Give them the message loud and clear without exposition, you know?
So I looked around the employee lounge, hoping to find this French Don's fancy coat mentioned in—I'm guessing—his mistress's note. From the kitchen, the hall went down a little ways. Along the way were verbally unlabeled bathrooms, both side by side with the tell-tale “Man” and “Woman” stick figures directing and producing the corresponding silent films on their own. Once I reached another door, I opened to to find a rather drab looking office. Beige walls, beige desk, beige door...beige, beige, beige. Ain't the French supposed to be really artsy and shit? Where was all the color here? The life? My seed living inside Heidi's uterus could do a better paint job, for Christ's sake!
I stepped over to what appeared to be a closet and opened it.
The sight of a teal coat and black gangster fedora caught my eye.
Memories of a man that I both had and hadn't met yet filled my mind. Things I assumed would be, but haven't yet witnessed. Personality arousing the furious, fire-breathing dragon within me. I grabbed the coat and put it on. Then I carefully placed the hat over my scalp.
Here's hoping this asshole doesn't have lice or some shit.
After that, I exited the office and entered the men's restroom. I approached the mirror to examine the bloody and beaten, yet still outrageously handsome devil that was gonna take this island by storm once he found Leroy Barris. I liked this man that I was watching—Christ, I loved this man. He was the smartest guy I knew; also the strongest. And the sexiest. And certainly the luckiest. I didn't know what was in store for his future, but I knew that his journey was gonna be one hell of a joy ride.
“Lookin' good, Genghis Two,” I said aloud, licking my life essence off my bottom lip.
The cocky bastard gave me a wink in the mirror.