Dom doesn’t lose his temper as easily as his brother, so normally he’s the one who deals with it when shit goes pear-shaped. But shit has been going pear-shaped a lot lately, and by the time Dom gets to the warehouse Marc is already in full swing. Literally–he’s gone after poor Jimmy with a nine iron.
Dom picks his way across the warehouse floor, cursing under his breath. His shoes are new, and it’s a fuck of a thing to get blood out of tan leather.
He puts both hands up, palms out. “Marc. Take it easy.”
On the floor, Jimmy groans. He’s pulled up into a foetal position so Dom can’t tell the full extent of the damage, but his clothes are soaked in just about every bodily fluid there is. At first guess, Dom would say the kid’s lost his teeth, his fingernails, his bollocks and at least a couple of internal organs.
“Fuck,” he says and pinches his nostrils shut. The whole place is going to have to be hosed down. Disinfected.
Marc grins. His eyes are bright, glittering in the dim light. He ignores Dom and addresses Jimmy. “Do you know what the definition of insanity is, boy? Doing the same thing but expecting it to turn out different. That was Einstein, said that. Smart man. Not like you, eh? Because you should know by now what to expect when you fuck up, shouldn’t you? You should know what happens.”
He swings the club at Jimmy’s knee. It crunches, and the kid howls.
“Marc,” Dom says. Again, he’s ignored. Another swing, and the other knee goes.
Marc pushes his hair back, leaving a trail of red through the blond, then brings the club down again, straight into the kid’s gut. A spurt of blood comes out of his mouth, but no more sounds.
“Marc,” Dom says. Louder, this time. “For fuck’s sake.”
Marc spins round, the club still in his hand. “What? Have we got a problem here, Dominic? You got something you want to say to me? Some objection you want to make?”
He lets the club fly once more. Jimmy flips up and over, comes to rest on his back. His head cracks down on the concrete and one arm falls, loosely, over what’s left of his face.
Dom exhales slowly, looks down at the floor. The time for objections is past, now. “No, Boss,” he says.
“Good.” Marc’s breathing hard and his knuckles are white. “I came here to give this boy a chance to explain himself, but he decided he’d rather tell me a fairy story. It was a good one, though. You’d have liked it. Better than the three bears and the three pigs and the three fucking billy goats gruff. Magical powers, Dom. That’s how he got robbed. Not because he’s a fucking useless bastard, but because this woman’s got magical powers.” He spits into the puddle spreading under Jimmy’s head.
“Her name’s Elena,” Dom says.
Marc looks up at him. “What?”
“The woman he was talking about. Elena. I’ve been asking around, what with all the shit that’s been going on lately, and this is what I’m hearing. It wasn’t just Jimmy, that’s the thing. She turned Kelton over last night, as well. Took the lot. Everything he had. The money, the gear, everything.”
Marc leans the club against the wall, then goes to the sink and washes his hands. “You speak to Kel yet?”
Dom glances at the mess on the floor. ‘Yeah, but you’re not going to like it.’
Kelton Adams is a smackhead, but one of the functional ones. He runs his patch well, pays up on time, keeps his shit together. Went to university, still reads books. He talks a lot of bollocks, especially when he’s high, but there’s a decent brain under all the shit. Or so Dom would have said, anyway.
He rubs the back of his neck. “He said she was a goddess. Immortal Death, the goddess of time. I think that was the exact quote.”
Marc looks at his watch and lets out a hiss of annoyance. The glass is cracked. “Are you serious?”
“I’m just telling you what he said. He wasn’t making much sense.”
“No shit. How bad was he hurt?”
“He wasn’t. Not that I could see, anyway.”
“So he just let her clean him out and walk away? Didn’t put up a fight?”
Dom shrugs. “He said he did. He said he killed her, but it didn’t make any difference. Don’t ask me, Marc, I don’t know what happened. There was blood all over the flat, but it wasn’t his–there wasn’t a mark on him. Kel can be handy with a knife when he needs to be, but if she’d lost that much blood she’d be dead. So, I don’t know. Maybe she sacrificed a goat or something.”
Marc snorts. “Right, yeah. A black mass. Voodoo. Maybe that’s how she does it.” He steps over the body on the floor. “All right, let’s get this sorted out. Find out where our little voodoo princess is hiding. I think it’s time we started telling some of our own stories. Like the one about what happens when you pick the wrong people to fuck with.”
Dom makes some calls. Nine times out of ten, that’s good enough in itself. If Marc’s looking for you, you don’t want to be found. Most people decide they’ve had a good enough run and quietly slip out of the game.
But this one? No. She doesn’t disappear. She doesn’t even keep out of the way. She turns over their bookie, another couple of dealers and one of the legit-front shops–a florist, and who the fuck robs a florist, for fuck’s sake–then walks right into the warehouse while they’re unpacking a shipment.
“Hi,” she says, like it’s some kind of make-up party. “I’m Elena.”
She’s tiny–five foot and a fag paper at most–with short, dark blonde hair. Nicely curvy. Other circumstances, Dom might have shown some interest.
Marc stares at her like she’s a cockroach that’s dropped into his beer. Terry puts down the crate he was hauling and puts his hand on his gun.
The woman, Elena, just stands there. She’s still smiling, like she’s waiting to be asked if she wants a glass of wine or something.
Dom’s gun is in a shoulder holster, but it’s easily visible. Marc’s is tucked in his waistband.
She acts like she hasn’t noticed. Or doesn’t care.
“You must really have a death wish,” Marc says, and she laughs like that’s the funniest thing she’s ever heard.
“Shut up,” he says, but she just keeps laughing.
All the guns are out now, including Dom’s, but it doesn’t seem to bother her. Maybe Marc’s right. Maybe this is what it’s all been about. A death wish.
Well, if she wants to get killed, she came to the right place. After Jimmy, Dom had a nice slick metal floor put in, with a drain in the middle. There’s plenty of plastic sheeting on the shelves, and they own, in one form or another, all of the other units on the estate. No neighbours to worry about any strange noises.
“I heard you wanted to talk to me,” she says.
She’s got a bit of an accent, but Dom can’t place it. Vaguely American, vaguely Irish, vaguely something else.
“Yeah,” Marc says. “Something like that.” He looks her up and down. If she’s armed, it’s well-concealed. “So you thought you’d drop in, eh? Come and have a nice chat?”
She grins. “What can I say? I’m a thrill-seeker. Sometimes you feel the need for an adrenalin rush, you know?”
“Well,” Marc says. “I’m sure we can oblige.” He raises the gun. “How’s that for starters?”
She looks at it critically and makes a so-so motion with her hand. Marc’s face darkens and Dom knows this is going to get ugly.
“Hope you enjoyed yourself, then, love,” Marc says. “Hope it was worth it, because now it’s time to pay the bill.”
“Wow,” she says. “Anyone ever tell you that you sound just like the guy off that show about the–”
And then Marc shoots her in the face.
The force of it knocks her off her feet and throws her back against the wall. She hangs there for a second, pinned against the spray of her own blood, then crumples.
“Fuck,” Dom says. He didn’t even get a chance to put down the plastic sheeting.
Terry puts his hands on his hips and looks down at the body. “That was a bit of a waste, wasn’t it? She weren’t a bad looking lass. And we still don’t know how she was getting away with–”
“It doesn’t matter now, does it?” Marc says. “It was getting on my nerves, just listening to her. Well? Don’t just stand there, get the–”
His voice fades out, becomes muffled. Dom’s ears pop and his stomach clenches as if he’s just gone down the drop on a rollercoaster. He hates those fucking things.
“Hi,” a voice says. “I’m Elena.”
Dom swings round and nearly falls over, because his feet aren’t where he left them. He’s back standing by the shipping crates, instead of over by the door. Over by the body.
Which is gone. Or, to be more precise, is back standing upright and smiling.
“What?” he says.
Marc is next to him again. Terry’s back where he was, about to stack another crate on the pile. He drops it.
“What?” Dom says again. The smell of smoke and blood is gone.
Marc stares at his hand, which is empty. The gun is in his waistband. He snatches at it, nearly drops it.
“Careful there, cowboy,” Elena says. “You don’t want that to go off while it’s still stuffed in your pants, do you?”
Marc gets a proper grip on the gun, lifts it up and points it at her again. To his credit, it doesn’t shake. Dom still feels as wobbly as fuck. Like he’s just been through an earthquake, or something.
On the other side, Terry is smacking at his head like he’s trying to shake something loose.
Elena eyes the gun and lifts an eyebrow. “Right. Because that worked so well last time.”
“What the fuck just happened?” Marc says.
“You tried to kill me. It didn’t work. Or, to be more precise, it didn’t work for long.”
In the silence that follows, Dom’s mind flashes to Kelton, what he’d been like when Dom had found him, kneeling on the stained floorboards and rambling like a madman. Dom had thought he was praying, at first. Maybe he had been.
“Immortal Death,” he says.
Elena nods and gives him a pleased smile. “Yes. Exactly.”
Marc doesn’t look pleased. Marc looks like he wants to rip her heart out and eat it. Hers or anyone else’s, come to that. Dom shifts backwards a half-step.
“Exactly?” Marc says. “Exactly, what? What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”
“Immortal,” Elena says. “Definition: not mortal. Undying. Not subject to death or decay. Unkillable.”
“Fuck you,” Marc says, and empties the gun into her. He covers all the bases this time–gut, chest, neck, head.
After a couple of seconds, Terry joins in. The noise is very loud.
Dom looks at the gun in his own hand, then puts it down on one of the crates. Marc gives him a look of fury and Terry one of contempt, but what good do they think more bullets are going to do? Do they think Marc missed, the first time?
Terry carries on pulling the trigger, click click, long after the gun is empty. Then there’s just smoke and echoes and fast, panting breaths. What’s left of Elena is splattered over half the warehouse.
“Right,” Marc says. “That’s that sorted out. Dom, you–”
And then it happens again. The weird, hollow Zing in his ears, in his stomach. In his bones. He’s back by the crates again, next to Marc, and his gun is in his holster. He whips his head around and yes, there she is. She doesn’t speak this time.
Marc roars with rage and grabs his gun.
“Really?” Elena says. “You just want to keep going with this?”
Terry throws himself flat against the blockwork wall. His gaze roams over the floor, the walls, the crates. It’s all clean. Dom can still see the red shapes himself, but only when he shuts his eyes.
Marc keeps hold of his gun, but he doesn’t fire. “How are you doing this?” he says.
“Remember that definition of immortal?”
Marc shakes his head rapidly. “It’s not possible. It’s not fucking possible.”
“Oh, sure it is. Don’t tell me you never heard of a deal with the devil.”
Terry moans and crosses himself. Marc throws him a look of disgust.
“I was after the grand prize,” Elena says. “The fountain of youth. To never grow old, never die.” Her voice is soft, almost nostalgic. Dom’s mother used to talk like that, about fur coats and fancy cruises. He and Marc bought her plenty of both, but it never took the longing out of her voice.
“I got my chance,” Elena continues, “but you know how it is. You’re supposed to be very, very careful about what you wish for. Watch the small print, as it were. Because they’ll fuck with you, demons, if they can. That’s what happens, see, if you hang around long enough. You develop a taste for fucking with people. Because what else are you going to do with yourself, right?”
Terry’s edging along the wall, his mouth hanging open and his eyes bulging. She looks at him, and he breaks for the door. It’s thick steel and fucking heavy, but he throws it open as if it’s made of cardboard. It clangs shut after him.
“Fucker,” Marc says.
Elena smiles. “I feel confident saying he’ll be back soon enough. Now, where was I? Oh, yes. Getting fucked over. Because I specified living forever, but I didn’t say anything about never dying. So the amusing loophole is that I can still be killed. Just not, you know, for very long.”
“What does that mean?” Marc says. “What does any of this mean?”
Elena spreads her hands. “You saw what it means. I die, I rewind. We all rewind. Back to the start of the sequence, just like a great, cosmic DVD player.” She laughs. “It gives us a chance to reconsider the wisdom of our actions. Choose a different path.”
“Fuck this,” Marc says. “This is absolute fucking bollocks.”
He fires again.
“That’s three,” Elena says. “I know the whole demons, immortality, time loop thing is a bit of a shock to the system, but come on. Try to get with the programme. I might be technically immortal, but getting shot in the face still stings.”
Terry fumbles his crate again, then drops onto all fours and throws up. Marc pulls out his gun once more. This time, it shakes.
“Marc,” Dom says, holding up his hand. “Let’s take a minute. Let’s think about this.”
Marc glares at him, but he puts the piece away.
Dom faces Elena. “What do you want?”
“Finally,” she says. “Progress. Well, I fancy being the bad guy for a while. Change of scenery, you know? So I’m going to take over.”
“Your gang, your operation, whatever you call it. It’s mine, now. You work for me.”
Marc shakes his head. “Are you taking the fucking piss?”
“See, I love that. Such colourful turns of phrase, you have here. Are you taking the fuckin’ piss?” It comes out strange, in her weird accent. “You’ll have to teach me all of these.”
“You’re mental. You’re absolutely fucking mental.”
She considers this. “Very probably, by now. But hey, a girl’s got to have a hobby, right? Eternity is a long time, my friend. And there’s only so much sudoku you can do.”
Marc lifts his chin. “This is mine. This is all mine.”
“I’m sure we can come to a mutually suitable arrangement. There will always be a place for highly motivated employees in my organisation.”
“Employees? You think I’m going to work for you? Fuck that.”
Dom starts forward. “Marc, wait. Don’t–”
“Fuck,” Terry says. “Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.”
Elena smiles. “Take four,” she says brightly.
“Marc, enough with the gun,” Dom says. He feels rough, now, sick and exhausted like he’s got a two-bottle hangover. “No more. It’s not doing any good, keep bringing us back to here.”
“Smart boy,” Elena says. “There’s always a place for the intelligent ones, too.”
High spots of colour are burning in Marc’s cheeks. His eyes look sunken and yellow. His fingers twitch, but he doesn’t draw the gun. “All right. All right.”
There’s a pause. Dom and Terry both look at Elena.
“Don’t look at her,” Marc says. “She’s not in charge here.”
Terry starts edging towards the door. “Fucking stay where you are,” Marc says. Terry freezes.
“Time for negotiations?” Elena says.
Marc’s head drops for a second, then he lifts it again. “I will not have this. I will not fucking have it.” He cracks his knuckles. “All right, we can’t kill her. Okay. But it doesn’t mean we can’t fuck her up.”
He nods towards one of the metal chairs. “Tie her up there.”
Dom doesn’t move. Nor does Terry.
“Didn’t you hear me? I said, tie her up.”
Terry takes a step, one step, then stops.
“Well? What’s the fucking matter with you?”
Elena smiles. “I think he’s worried about what else I might be able to do. Isn’t that right, sugar?”
Terry doesn’t speak, but he swallows hard.
“After all, if this is real–and I think we’re all finally in agreement on that point now–then what else might be?” She runs her tongue along the edge of her teeth. “Vampires? Werewolves? What if all those monsters under the bed are real? What if I can rip your throat out, break your neck with my bare hands? What if I can set you on fire with the power of my mind? Boil your brains in your skull with a single thought? Is that what’s worrying you, Terry dear?”
She flings her hand out towards him, fingers stiff and splayed. “Scorchio!”
Terry flinches, half-ducks, and his feet tangle together. He goes down, hard.
Elena throws back her head and laughs. “Damn, but that one never gets old.”
Marc grabs hold of Terry’s arm and hauls him to his feet. “You stupid fucker,” he says. “What’s wrong with you? This isn’t Harry fucking Potter. Now get her.”
Elena grins and holds her arms out as if inviting a hug. “Want to take the chance, Terry?”
Terry backs away. Dom stays where he is.
Marc snarls at them. His lips draw back from his teeth and he looks more than half werewolf himself. He darts forward, seizes hold of Elena’s arm and yanks her around, throws her into the chair.
Dom holds his breath, and it looks like Terry’s doing the same. Maybe Marc, too.
Elena shrugs. “Oh, well. A lot of the time, that works. But there’s always the odd psychopath with no imagination.”
A grin of triumph spreads across Marc’s face. “See? What did I tell you?” He backhands her, putting his shoulders into it. The sound is meaty, solid. Her head rocks back and blood blooms at the corner of her mouth.
She licks it clean. “You learn to manage pain,” she says. “Over the years. It’s like those guys you see on the telly sometimes. Yogis, fakirs. Stick needles in them, tie bricks to their cocks, whatever. They don’t blink an eyelid. Work at it long enough, you get control. The nerves, the breath, the heart. And I’ve had a very, very long time to work at it.”
She places a hand on her chest. “There are techniques that let you take charge of the nervous system. You can hold your breath, say, or slow your heartbeat. Slow it down, or even stop it. Course, most people wouldn’t want to go that far. But then, as you might have noticed, I’m not most people.”
She smiles, and her eyes roll back.
“Oh, fuck,” Dom says, “that means–”
“Hi guys,” Elena says from behind him. “Are we having fun yet?”
Terry goes down on his knees and begins to cry.
She pulls a bag of peanuts out of her pocket, rips it open and throws one into her mouth. “Want to test me? To see how many times we can go round? I’m happy to play that game if you are. As I’m sure you can imagine, I have a great deal of patience.”
“Boss,” Terry says. “Boss, please.”
Marc rounds on him. “What? What are you saying to me? Give in, let her take everything? You want to work for her? Is that it? You’d rather work for her than me? You think she’s going to look after you? She’s a fucking monster.”
Elena munches on another handful of nuts. “It’s always interesting, to see whose mind cracks first, and how long it takes. Want to know what the world record is?”
“Marc,” Dom says. “Marc, we’ve got to–”
He doesn’t see the fist coming until it’s too late to get out of the way. Pain flares in his jaw and his knees unlock. As he goes down he sees Marc’s hands, the knuckles bleeding, close around Elena’s throat.
His vision starts to grey out, but then he’s back on his feet again. Terry’s yelling–or maybe screaming would be a more accurate word. There are more gunshots.
Everything hurts. He’s seeing double. He throws up, can’t clear his throat, feels like he’s choking.
Noise. Pain. Shouting. Elena, laughing.
“Okay,” Elena says. “Well, this is more like it.”
Dom swallows, spits. His throat feels raw. Terry is standing next to her, Marc’s gun in his hand. He hands it to her. She gives him a wide, proud smile. “Thank you, Terry.”
Marc’s kneeling on the floor. Dom goes up behind him and pulls his arms behind his back, keeping him down.
Elena has a knife. It has a black handle and a curved blade. It shines.
She brings it to Marc’s throat. Dom makes a sound.
She stills, and looks at him. “Is there a problem, Dominic? Something you want to say?”
Dom looks down at his brother for a long time. Then he says,. “No, Boss.”
Elena smiles and rests her hand on his shoulder. It’s very warm.
“Good,” she says, and they go back to work.
Copyright © 2012 Michelle Ann King
Michelle Ann King writes SF, dark fantasy and horror from her kitchen table in Essex, England. She has worked as a mortgage underwriter, supermarket cashier, makeup artist, tarot reader and insurance claims handler before having the good fortune to be able to write full-time. She loves Las Vegas, vampire films and good Scotch whisky. Find details of her stories and books at www.transientcactus.co.uk and find her on twitter @MichelleAnnKing.