I’m walking through this world all alone. It feels like God has taken my soul, and I’m left on my own. Yesterday, I saw a crow flying a straight, perfect line, which is exactly how my life is now: a perfect line that points from a start to a definite, deliberate end. Instead of freedom, like that dark bird, it’s a shotgun blast to the chest, a family of .45 slugs in the gut, a switchblade to the temple, and I’ll end up with the skin cut from my face and my eyes scooped out for some dark ritual. I’m on the Devil’s back until I die.
But I’m not dead.
I keep telling myself that, and as of today, things are starting to look good. Days of running around, making connections, negotiating terms, selling my soul for a crate of cigarettes and a case of mediocre Vodka, and what did it amount to? Piddling success that barely paid for itself.
But it did pay for itself.
I turned the faucet and instead of dust and rust, I got a couple of drips of clean water. I don’t know if these drips of cash are going to make my cup run over, but maybe enough to drink. Maybe enough to keep me from dying of thirst.
And what’s it for? Why am I doing all this?
Damned if I know.
There’s some scary stuff out there, and it seems to just get scarier.
Like those bums we managed to fight off. There was some kind of bad voodoo going on there. There was an immediate change in the guy we took to Pip’s, and suddenly he was apologetic, remembering everything that he’d done, but unable to reason out why he’d done it. The guy was just a run-of-the-mill bum, more interested in scoring another drink than trying to kill people. He ended up being reasonably helpful, pointing us at another guy known as the Ragman. Guess what that guy looks like?
Both the Doc and Pips were pretty much the worse for wear. Pips was adamant that he stay in his apartment, and that he could talk his way around the police who were certainly going to respond to the violence in the alley area, the two dead bums, and the gunshot just fired into his favorite right leg by yours truly. Malarky wanted to go with us, so we shouldered the Doc and got out of there.
The choices you have to make in this world sometimes suck cold rocks. The Doc was in pain, and I needed to make my connection for the cigarettes. Missing that would be messing up an opportunity that was held together with coat hangers and chewing gum. I ended up having to give the Doc one of my Vicodin, which meant I was, once again, on my last tab. It drives me mad at night, when I have the shakes, thinking about how much of that stuff I gave out to “friends” and “friends of friends” like candy on Halloween. All those shared tabs now seem like a wasted lifetime supply.
The dealings don’t really matter. Suffice to say that once I was making the deal for the cigarettes, the Vicodin I gave to the Doc really paid off. We had no currency, we had no resources, we had nothing to barter with. Then the Doc came through with the idea of selling a “safe house” night using Pip’s apartment. I’m sure the Frenchie will be angry as only a Frenchie can, and it may be that this dog will come back to bite us on our collective ass, but the currency worked, the deal was struck, and we were in business.
Now I had some breathing room. Not much, mind you, and I never realized just how unglamorous and stressful the life of a criminal is, even as petty as me. It’s not like “The Asphalt Jungle” or “Rififi”. Nothing is meticulously planned, and I’m certainly no Sam Jaffe. I’m not even a Sterling Hayden. I sweat bullets, I sweat, my knees shake and my heart beats a rhythm so loud in my chest that I’m certain everyone hears it. And that’s WITH a hit of Vicodin. Maybe it gets easier with time.
We picked up the case of cigarettes and then made our way to Checkpoint Delta where O’Hara was waiting for us. We’d been flagged on some kind of watch-list, and if we hadn’t made the connection with O’Hara, we’d have been done for. She didn’t ask too many questions, and we briefed her with just enough information. Everything went well, we crossed into the Russian sector of Berlin, and we had five hours.
By this point, the Doc was starting to groan again, and he’s far too valuable, as a friend first and an asset second. The guy keeps a roof over my head, and keeps me out of some trouble. I watch his back as much as I can, and I repay him when the opportunity presents itself. I was able to track down an underground vet who managed to do some good work on the Doc and provide us with a pad for the rest of us, Malarky, O’Hara and I, to crash for a few hours. Doc looked a lot better when the sun was up and Malarky and I made our way to my Russian tobacconist, and finally closed that end of the deal.
The four of us headed back through the American checkpoint, with O’Hara again flashing her credentials and getting us through without much concern. We’ll have to be careful moving forward, as the whole group going back and forth with her will quickly make us all targets. I might have to start thinking about a legitimate business cover. Or maybe I can hire someone to move the cigarettes and the Vodka.
Maybe it never gets easier.
After that, Malarky wanted to go check out the well-dressed man’s place: Something Heinrichs. I should really start carrying a pad and pencil for the other side of these investigations. It’s one thing to write down my Vicodin, cigarette or Vodka connection. Entirely something else to have names and dates and information for what could easily be played off as research for another of Doc’s books.
Heinrichs is old money. Very old money. There wasn’t too much to be gleaned from watching his estate, and no way to fast-talk our way into the place. Doc and O’Hara figured out there was a country club that Heinrichs was likely to be a member, and the Doc’s real world persona got them in the door. Those two were smooth as a hot knife through warm butter. Schmoozed and pressed hands with some of Berlin’s high society crowd which let us in on the Society of Philosophers. Heinrichs is their leader, and while most of the members consider it an elite social club for elites, apparently Heinrichs considers it something more. He’s directly connected with the murders. I can see the blood on his rich hands right now.
But for what reason?
Our next lead was to try to track down Ragman. This turned out to be easier than I had ever thought. We tracked him to a specific area, and then the Frenchie and Malarky wandered off to try to find him. I stayed with O’Hara and the Doc in O’Hara’s jeep, smoking and admiring certain scenery. About twenty minutes later they brought him back. He smelled like a frat house toilet after a series of weekend benders and no maid service. The Doc asked him a bunch of questions and then got more excited than I’ve seen the old boy get in, well, probably ever. He started pulling out wads of cash I didn’t even know he had, and giving them to this dirty, smelly, poorly dressed, raggedy Ragman. There was some discussion of “shape-shifting”, you know like from that Lon Chaney flick, “The Wolfman”. Only instead of being a wolf, Ragman turns into a dog. And instead of being bit by another “shape-shifting” dog, Ragman uses magic to complete his transformation.
I swear to you, I’m not making any of this up. The Doc was practically bouncing on his feet and wiping his mouth. But goddamn him, he wanted proof. He wanted to see this charlatan do exactly as he claimed. He wanted to see the goddamn magic right before his goddamn eyes. Of course, Ragman wouldn’t do it out in the open. Whatever his trick, he wasn’t going to reveal it for everyone to see. The Doc waved me over with him, and had me cover Ragman with my guns, and I did, right up until this smelly, dirty, nasty bum did exactly what he said he would do.
And it was no trick.
It doesn’t matter if you don’t believe me. I was there, with my guns aimed at his scrawny, dirty ass, and then watched him literally transform, and not with the ease and swiftness of Lon Chaney, but in a visceral, wet, grotesque manner of bone, sinew and muscle reshaping themselves from a human into a canine. I didn’t know whether to be scared or sick or both. I also couldn’t say if I would have been able to shoot him if he’d gone after Doc. Or maybe I’m lucky I didn’t accidentally shoot him right then. I’d never, ever seen anything like this.
I can’t say I was unhappy when he changed back, and he and Doc discussed some more about shape-shifting (which I won’t put in quotes again) and magic and the murders we’d been investigating. My hands shook when I tried to holster my guns, and I knew it wasn’t from lack of Vicodin, but I popped another one anyhow. I don’t actually remember when I’d met with Der Falcon, my current source, but I had a day or two worth if I was careful.
This wasn’t a time to be careful with the drugs.
Ragman agreed to look over the most recent murder scene, the one we’d been at just the previous morning. The ride was a complete blur, and I’m glad we didn’t run into any trouble anywhere. I was completely useless, still trying to resolve what I knew of the world with what I’d just seen. If magic worked then what else was real? Are werewolves roaming around with gypsies? Are mummies cursing Egypt? Are there vampires dining in Romania?
What about all those Lovecraft stories I’d read as a kid? What about Asquith’s ghosts? What about the “entities” of Blackwood? Were those just stories, or did they know something? Did they see it for themselves?
Jesus Christ it’s enough to make me want to get religion in a big way.
Either I pulled myself together or the Vicodin kicked in. In either case, I found the super at the apartment complex, and because O’Hara was with us as an MP, he had no problems letting us back onto the murder scene. And goddamn if Ragman didn’t immediately do his dog-changing trick again. I wasn’t ready for it, and nobody saw me jump and move back, but I did. I don’t know how they can all be so calm about this supernatural shit.
When Ragman turned human again (seriously, I just wrote that) he told us that there was some bad magic being used here. He didn’t know what, but it wasn’t what he did. I don’t mind telling you that Ragman is a little nuts (and we’re even nuttier than a fruitcake for being around him). But the pieces are starting to come together and it all points to something altogether . . . evil.
Not like the two-dimensional Ming the Merciless, evil for the sake of the plot. Evil for the sake of giving Buck Rogers someone to fight. No, this is evil for . . . power, I guess. The sacrifice of innocent people for its attainment.
Their deaths for power over others.
Snuffing out candles to make the world darker. To make the world a place for dark things.