The Monster in the Closet

Sleepy-kun Jan 30th, 2016 (edited) 1,804 Never
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  1.     The trot of a subtle bass pattern, crawling over the walls like mold in community housing. Six white keys and a black, taking turns singing under the lamp swinging over the piano. The reed of a rusted alto sax rattling in its housing, barely able to whimper when once it would have wailed. The lights were tuned low to keep the local drunks drinking, warm beer from corroded taps dripping long after their fourth drinks were served.
  3.     I watched the amber whiskey in my glass mingle with the slow trickle of water from the ice, swirling patterns of clear and clearer mimicking the smoke slithering from the tip of my cigar. She was twelve and a half minutes late, give or take the minute or so I might have lost in my glass. A new record. It wasn't often that I was the one kept waiting.
  5.     Of course, I got what I came for. The bell over the door rang, and I knew I didn't need to turn around. The rest of the bar did it for me. I drained my glass and slapped a green on the table before I set about adjusting the button I had undone at the top of my shirt. The pouring rain echoed in from the open door before it swung back in, silent as always.
  7.     In my mind's eye, she was clear as day just from the sound of her footsteps.
  9.     She was a beast among animals. Eyes that wept cold flame, bloody red, exactly the kind you don't want to see staring back when you look under your bed. Jet-black hair ran down her back like a bucketful of hot tar had been tipped over her head, carrying a scent of spices and smoke. Her skin was a dark grey, interrupted only by the soft lines of black fur running from her elbows to her hands, her knees to her ankles. I could hear her long red claws gently stroke against the buckles of her coat, the clinking noise quieter than anything else in the room but still carrying further than any chipped glass in the house.
  11.     She got her own seat next to mine, and brought her long legs around, already crossed by the time I could steal a glance. Either I'd let myself slip or I had been getting easier to read.
  13.     “Evening.” I muttered without turning as I flagged down the Lamia working the bar with a free hand. “Fashionably late?” one of those fiery red claws that glowed like hot iron scraped maybe a quarter of an inch closer on the half-polished surface of the bar before I got a reply.
  15.     “The cab driver had a chill.” her smoky words snaked their way through my ears like waxed string between razors. “Had to tip her extra for her trouble.” The hair on my neck stood up as I heard the flames in her eyes flicker over her eyelashes. When I turned, she was flipping through a case of cigarettes, gently stroking a favorite before reaching for the one with the red filter.
  17.     Morgan. Morgan the hellhound. Once a client, now my business partner. Her husband tried to gamble her away over a game of cards with some mobsters, and I helped her scatter his ashes. She learned how to handle a gun fast, and she could turn up the heat whenever someone seemed a little 'undercooked' as she called it. Hence the name of our business, the Bar & Grill.
  19.     She didn't return my stare, but one sharp white tooth exposed itself when she allowed herself a piece of a grin. One snap of her fingers, and sparks glanced off of the bar. Two, and her red cigarette was lit, the smell of burning cinnamon filling the air.
  21.     “That better be your second drink you just ordered.” she said, staring dreamily into a tall bottle of Kahlua behind the counter. “we,” she exhaled another cloud of toxic spice. “...have got work to do tonight.”
  23.     “Like any other night.” A fresh glass sweating with condensation was slid into my hand from down the bar.
  25.     “You drink three on those nights, too.”
  27.     “I do.”
  29.     I shifted in my seat, the judge and jury on my hip digging into my waist almost as hard as the silver flask beside it. I stared at the star-shaped scar on the back of my hand, a momentary feeling of searing and cold passing over before I shrugged it away.
  31.     As Morgan's fireball on ice finally reached her hands, the band in the back changed their tune. A post-riot rendition of “My Songbird in Green” was a rare set to play, especially in harpy territory. A real treat for the ears, spoiled by a rights movement gone sour.
  33.     Four years before, it was sung by the the songbirds, a group of radical winged monster dames protesting the treatment of flying folk. They would fly in such huge flocks that they could blot out the sun, feathers of every rainbow littering the streets below. Then a rookie cop with a trigger itch and an axe to grind aimed high.
  35.     For weeks, you could hardly take a breath without the crack of revolver fire sounding somewhere in the city, like cheap fireworks. The riots got so bloody that some called it the civil war in June, but those battles weren't fought by soldiers. Some of the bitter humans in the scrape district would call it the chicken roast of '34.
  37.     1938 was a good year to drink in. Russia's finest drink was finally allowed through customs, and none of the talk of war coming in Europe had brought the jobs we had been scratching in the dirt for. You'd be a fool not to take the edge off with a fifth.
  39.     “You can still shoot.” Morgan whispered past swollen lips from the spice in her glass. It wasn't a question.
  41.     “Better than yesterday.” was the most clever response I could come up with.
  43.     We both stood and made for the door, timing our footsteps to match the thump of the kick drum so as not to interrupt the show in the quiet bar.
  45.     The rain might have come down to a drizzle, but Morgan kept her collar up. I prayed under my breath it didn't mean she was packing her twelve-gauge under that long coat of hers. The last time she shot that thing I caught her ricochet on my calf, and she was using buckshot. That's the last time we ever shot anything in a warehouse full of hubcaps.
  47.     We made our way to my car, a beaten old thing with hardly a lick of paint left on it. The tires were bald, and the rust on the body had gotten so bad you could hardly lean on the side without it screaming back. Of course, all of this was ornamental, to keep the scavengers away. The insides were fit to outrun the devil himself.
  49.     The scarred leather seats marked with duct tape stayed silent as we both got in, the car frame rattling as the doors swung shut. The engine purred to life as we rolled out onto the bumpy road in desperate need of repair.
  51.     “How many reservations?” Morgan asked as she flicked her red filter out through a crack in the window.
  53.     “Sergeant said twelve. Expect five more.”
  55.     “He was never great at counting anything that wasn't green.”
  57.     “Or anything alive.”
  59.     “True.” Morgan kept her eyes on the lights reflecting off the puddles in the road. “No special requests tonight? Can we just serve the house special and call it a night?”
  61.     “Depends on how fast you wait the tables, and how hungry they are. We might have to skip straight to dessert if I'm going to serve any of the good drinks.”
  63.     “I don't mind making a delivery after.”
  65.     “Good. You know how the sergeant eats.”
  67.     “Nothing gives him an appetite quite like an honest day's work.”
  69.     We shared a grim snicker as we rounded the last corner leading from civilization to the Scrape district. It was a modern-day ruin, overrun by scratchers and the folk who thought they were above the monsters but somehow beneath stabbing each other for dirty dimes.
  71.     Scratchers were the golden examples of humanity who got themselves hooked on raking their skin with fangs and claws, bought on the black market from skinners and poachers. Drider venom was a potent aphrodisiac with a long-lasting euphoric toxin, and some Lamias had enough venom to put you in a ecstasy-laced coma for a day and a half. Some parts of the world traded their opium farms for monster ranches, and there was always a steady supply of poison coming into the city for bad men to play with.
  73.     Our mark for the night was the burned-out husk of the Cherry Building, once a collection of banks stacked up on one another, but now a collection of scratch-houses and skinner gangs. We told were to clear out the parking garage, where some cockroaches had chewed their way in and had been kidnapping monster dames to harvest venom. The sergeant of the local PD, Brinks, had contracted us to clean the place up a little before he went in for the papers.
  75.     I parked us around the corner and unbuttoned my coat, reaching for the spare couple of clips I kept on loops under the collar. Morgan brought a couple packages of ammo out from the glove box, and carefully slid her twelve-gauge out from beneath her own coat along with a box of slugs. I could only grin and shake my head as she started pushing the shells into place.
  77.     I took out my old 1911 I fought the last war with, an ivory-gripped beauty I called “The Cellist”, and set about inspecting the bore. All the pieces fit together as they should, and I had five clips of .45 in reserve. I clicked a round into the chamber and let the smell of black powder and gun grease waft up as Morgan fetched our backups from beneath the seats. A Mauser for her and a sawed-off for me.
  79.     The rain didn't slow down as we both padded our way down to the garage entrance, water pouring in after us. A few barrels full of fire showed us exactly what we needed to see, and I could probably have picked one or two off from where we were with The Cellist.
  81.     “Hmm.” Morgan looked thoughtful. The kind of thoughtful a train conductor looks before he runs over a dame tied to the rails. She flashed me a wicked grin, the flames over her eyes burning a bloody red. “Medium rare?” She asked, though I knew she wasn't going to take my answer into consideration.
  83.     “Medium rare.” I whispered as my thumb played over the hammer.
  85.     On a silent count of no particular number, we swept in like death's own chains on a demon's back. The cellist played her tune fast and hard, .45 ripping through suspenders and greasy wife-beaters like they weren't even there. The sound of Morgan's pump-action rang out and echoed against the walls, drowning out the rolling thunder outside like it were an exciting conversation at a Christmas party. Any of the lowlifes that didn't get a gut full of buckshot were probably deafened.
  87.     One of the scratchers tried to pull out a revolver, but his hand was mulched by one of my hollow points before he got his finger around the trigger. The rest, mostly armed with bats and knives, all seemed to tumble back at once as the bar and grill moved on to the second course.
  89.     “Three paces.” Morgan called out between shots. I took the compulsory three paces back, and watched as amazed as ever as she started smoking from her very pores.
  91.     Morgan crouched down low to the ground, tossing her weapons and coat aside and arching her back. Where one of her shoulders stood out, a jet of fire erupted from her back. Then another. And another. In a matter of seconds she was wreathed in fire, screaming blue flame from her mouth and white from her eyes.
  93.     On all fours, she surged forward, a few items thrown in haste melting or splitting from heat expansion as they glanced off without a hitch. One of the scratchers tried to pick up the bloody revolver from before, but he was burned to nothing before he could get a hold on the grip.
  95.     One of my .45 rounds splattered a skinner with a chain, and I heard another out of sight howl in agony as his flesh was simultaneously melted and torn from his bones.
  97.     “OH, OH NO PLEASE GOD NO-” another voice was interrupted by the sound of sizzling flesh as I saw Morgan's flaming form dance about in the dark, raking anything that moved with glowing hot claws as she lit more and more of the dingy garage.
  99.     I kept an eye out for stragglers, Making sure none of the clever ones who stayed out of sight got any ideas. A wounded one tried to drag himself to where Morgan had dropped her shotgun, but I took his hat and tucked him in.
  101.     After a while, the shouting all fell quiet and Morgan, having checked all of her corners, let her flames die down. I tossed her gun and coat back to her, and she returned to how she was without a word. I looked around for any useful pieces we could charge the Sergeant for as Morgan set about pushing fresh shells into her shotgun, probably planning to put a few slugs in the corpses of the particularly ugly ones.
  103.     "Brute." Morgan muttered as she pressed the loud end of her shotgun to the chest of one of the big ones. If he wasn't dead before, there wasn't much left of him after.
  105.     When I looked behind a rusted-out old bus, there was an iron door with chains and padlocks lining the whole thing, from hinge to frame. More surprising, though, was the fat, balding man with a bent tommy gun and a wooden baseball bat pissing himself on the ground at the foot of the door.
  107.     “Y-you're the burn squad, right?” he sputtered past bleeding lips, no doubt having been bitten furiously the whole time he was hiding. “Oh Jesus, or has Lucifer come for me?”
  109.     “The Bar & Grill, thank you.” Morgan corrected him, putting on her most pleasant bakery-girl's smile. Unable to drop to his knees, he tossed his gun to the side and began grovelling.
  111.     “I-I don't wanna to go to hell! I been a good, church-goin' boy, like ma always said! I only done what the good lord woulda wanted!” he whimpered and drooled onto the broken asphalt, his greasy shirt only getting greasier as he sobbed at the ground. Morgan growled and her eyes flashed again as she started to walk toward him, her claws clicking together.
  113.     “Hey, now.” I stopped her with my free arm and pushed her back a step. “You got to be the grill, now how about the bar?” her scowl turned into a bloody grin again as she gave me the space I needed.
  115.     “Wh-wha...?” The fat man barely managed, clawing the tears off his face as he tried to look me in the eye.
  117.     “I'm also a good, god-loving man.” I offered softly as I holstered my gun. Morgan snickered, but I raised a hand to stop her. “I'm not above forgiveness. Confess your crimes, and you'll get what you deserve.” The man's face went from bright red to white as a sheet.
  119.     “I-I been bad, I been capturing them spiders and snakes, breaking off pieces and sellin' 'em, I-” I cut him off with a slug across the jaw.
  121.     “You've been skinning them here!?” I growled as I grabbed his collar and dragged him to his feet. “Show me!” he looked at his feet. “Unlock the door and maybe you'll see the sun come up.” He nodded nervously as he slowly reached for his pocket, and produced a set of keys.
  123.     The old, balding man turned and set about releasing the locks as I pressed his forehead into the cold iron door.
  125.     “What's your name, man?” I asked patiently as he worked on the tangle of chains and locks.
  127.     “C-Clarence, sir.”
  129.     “Clarence what?”
  131.     “Clarence J-Jones.”
  133.     “Mister Juh-Jones then." I grunted as i pressed him against the door a little harder. Morgan was audibly trying to hold back a chuckle. "Is there a lady with the name Juh-Jones I should know about?”
  135.     “Uh...” he trailed off for a moment and froze. “Yeah, a missus and two daughters. They're, uh, N-Nadine and Charlotte.”
  137.     “Wonderful names both, Clarence.” I remarked, quietly slipping into a set of brass knuckles i had saved for the occasion.
  139.     The last lock on the door clattered to the floor, and the rusty metal creaked inward, the dim light of outside pouring in.
  141.     “Morgan, if you would.”
  143.     Morgan took the first step in and snapped her fingers, a small candle's flame forming on the end of her index finger. The light was enough to guide her to a set of oil lamps in the corner, which she turned up until the place was lit warmly. What we both saw was too much to describe.
  145.     A massive row of iron cages, like a full-on prison, each filled with all manner of monster dame. There were mostly driders and lamias, but in the mix we also saw a handful of sickly dryads, a badly bruised minotaur and some dejected groups of others.
  147.     “You did the right thing today, Clarence.” I grunted past gritted teeth. With a pat on the shoulder, I pushed him into the bars of one of the cages, then started scanning the walls for anything useful. A hose and an oil drum caught my attention.
  149.     “Has the bar run dry?” asked Morgan, sparks leaping from her eyes in barely contained rage.
  151.     “I'm just about to fix mister Jones something cold.” I turned back to Clarence. “What's your poison, Clarence?”
  153.     “I, ah... v-vodka?”
  155.     “A strong drink for a strong man.” I remarked. Clarence looked up, but didn't get to see anything before my brass knuckles knocked his teeth down his throat, his mouth filling with blood as he staggered five steps back. He spat blood and probably a little of his dinner onto the pavement in front of him, trying to shout but mostly retching. The monster dames in the cages didn't seem to notice any of the commotion.
  157.     “Wh-wha...” he tried to speak, but I slugged him again, this time breaking his nose. He rolled around on the floor as i started toward the oil drum in the corner. I couldn't help but grin when I saw it was empty.
  159.     “So tell me something, Clarence old boy.” I spoke as I started filling the drum with cold water. “You think you did the right thing, treating the ladies this way?” I made a sweeping gesture toward the ramshackle prison, none of the prisoners seeming to care enough to look. “Monster dames are still dames, Jones. A gentle touch can go a long way.” I turned off the water as it reached the brim.
  161.     “Please, stand up, mister Jones.” Morgan offered a hand, and Clarence looked at her incredulously before catching himself. He stood up on his own, and winced as Morgan's claws prickled his back, pushing him toward me and the barrel. Realization bloomed on his face, but Morgan's Mauser quelled any thoughts of running when she pressed it into his scalp.
  163.     “Can I offer you a drink, mister Jones?” I dipped a hand in the water and swirled it about, splashing him a little. Horror bloomed on his face again and he took a laboured, lurching step toward the door. I didn't even bother hurrying for my gun. I drew, took my time aiming, and blew out his right kneecap. Morgan took his left just for the fun of it.
  165.      We each grabbed a shoulder and hoisted him up, his bloody face dripping onto the floor as we dragged him, barely able to struggle, back over to the drum.
  167.     “Tell me one thing, Clarence.” I lit myself a smoke as he was propped up against the drum. “What were the names of those daughters of yours, again?” He took a minute or so to stop his sputtering and sobbing enough to answer.
  169.     “Wh- what? I, ah, Sarah and P-Penny?”
  171.     “That's exactly what I wanted to hear, mister Jones.”
  173.     He tried to scream under the water, but he ended up lasting less than a minute.
  175.     I still put a hole in his lungs to be sure.
  177.     Two days later, the newspapers printed a story of the police's heroic bust on a skinner gang that had been trafficking in scratch drugs and living resources, one of the largest Monster trafficking rings in the state. The monster dames that were rescued by the police were in the best available care, and were undergoing intensive therapy in hopes that they could one day recover.
  179.     That morning at the Monster Closet was even quieter than usual, with the piano in for repairs and the work day having an early start. I cracked an egg in a pint of dark beer and sat back in one of the padded chairs, watching scraps of paper blow by in the chilly morning wind.
  181.     Morgan took a seat at my table without a word waster, a bulging envelope in one hand and a white russian in the other.
  183.     “Nice weather today.” Morgan commented, sipping lightly at her drink.
  185.     “Could be better.”
  187.     There was more than a moment of silence.
  189.     "...did the chief call yet?" Morgan asked, trying just a little too hard not to look like she cared.
  191.     "He did. we're getting another five percent for a job well done." I raised my glass just so I could smell what was left of the whiskey. "we'll find a red envelope at the usual spot."
  193.     "How about another job? We got anything better to do than drink so early in the morning?"
  195.     "Nope." I said, mostly to myself. "Ain't nothing better."
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