Copyright 2013 by Richard J. Stuart
In Memory of Kevin Hager
The less you know about me the better. I can’t tell you where I live. Better you don’t know. Lets just say it isn’t any place close by or I wouldn’t be telling you anything at all. The story I have to tell isn’t the kind of thing you go around bragging about. I probably shouldn’t even be telling you. I have to tell someone though or else it will tear me apart from the insides. You are far enough away, so I’ll guess you’ll do.
I’ll have to risk filling you in a little bit. Me and my friend, Joey, live in kind of a crazy town. It’s your everyday lawless gun slinging modern town with one exception. Magic exists. I don’t know why. I don’t know anything about magic, except that it’s dangerous. I don’t mind, I’m a mercenary and it gives me a job. I work in security, for the water company actually. You see all kinds of monsters and creatures like to haunt the dark corners and sewers of our town. That might be ok for some, but it isn’t OK with the water company. Sacrificial victims tend to gum up the pipes. You want a secret place for your ritual sacrifice, go rent an apartment. The water company means business and so do me and my partner Joey.
So that’s how it all began. Joey and I, call me Mitch, we were sweeping though the sewers of our town. Keeping out the riff raff. We both shoot straight. I do some explosives too. Joey was into knives. That was the trouble. We spotted some creepy guy there in the dark. Standing over something, I don’t know what. I swung my light on him and shouted “Hey.” That was it just “Hey.” Then the guy turns on me. He throws this wicked black knife in my direction. I ducked, but the knife ducked with me and cuts a nasty little slash across my arm. I won’t repeat what I said then. Just that I started shooting.
I can shoot straight. So could Joey. I didn’t miss. But that knife, it had already flown back to him and the guy was now just picking our bullets out of the air with the thing. Not good. This guy had some sort of dark mojo going for him with that blade. Joey did the next move. He figures two can play at that game and flings one of his own blades at the guy. Nice try but not much to show for it. The Dark blade stopped that one too. Stabbed it right though Joeys knife, like he was spearing a fish on a table.
It was enough for me though. My guns and over under job with a 40mm underneath, just for these occasions. I took a shot, not at him, but just in front of him. Deflect that, buster. He couldn’t as it was out of arms reach, but the blast caught him, knocked him back to the wall and took the fight out of the guy. He dropped the knife. Joey’s turn again. He threw another knife, and this one didn’t miss. Got him right though the heart. Sweet.
I figured it was over. Another creep out of the sewers. But I was wrong. Oh so wrong. I’d give my left arm to stop what happened then, but I didn’t know. I couldn’t have known. Joey just did it natural as you please. He walked over and picked up the guys knife.
“Look at this Mitch. Wicked!” he said.
“Evil’s more like it, Joey. Why don’t you leave that thing alone.”
“Man, didn’t you see what it could do! This is cool.”
I had a bad feeling, but I didn’t say anything more. What the heck. Joey is into knives and this guy wasn’t going to be needing his anymore. We went back to work. We cleaned up the mess, filed a report and went to the club for a couple of beers. Just another day at the office. No problems, or so I thought.
The problems didn’t start till later. We were at the club having a cold one when the professor walked by. Joey and I both have rooms at the Club. It’s a hangout for adventurers, mystics, explorers and the like. A couple of smugglers, but no real bad guys. The rooms are cheap and it’s got some sort of exemption from the local prohibition laws. The Professor’s our resident mystic. Not very powerful as mystics go. But he can do a few tricks. More to the point, he knows things. When he tells you something about the magic or the occult you listen. If you are smart. I was drinking but Joey was playing with his new toy when the Professor walked past us. He took one look at that knife and stopped.
“Where did you get that?” he asked.
Joey gripped the knife tight and turned to face the Professor. I didn’t like the look in his eyes. “It’s mine.” He said.
The room got kind of quiet just then.
The professor just smiled. “I’m sure it is. It’s a very interesting knife. A fine addition to your collection I’m sure. I was just curious.”
“You ask a lot of questions old man.” Joey snapped, uncharacteristically.
I didn’t like this. It wasn’t like Joey.
“Easy, Joey. What’s the big secret. We got it off some creep in the sewers.”
“Did you touch it Mitch?”
“It cut me. Just a scratch. I didn’t handle the knife no.”
“What’s your problem, Professor. Maybe you’re thinking of adding it to your collection?” Joey said.
If Joey had talked that way to me, I would have said something back. But it takes a lot to rile the Professor. He just smiles back at him and explains. “Me? Good heaven’s no. Knives like that, well, they aren’t really knives Joey. That’s a spirit knife. Some are good, some are evil. They are always dangerous. Remember that.”
“I guess you think I should get rid of it.” Joey said.
“That’s something you have to decide for yourself Joey. Everyone has to decide who they serve.”
That ended the conversation. The Professor tipped his head and walked on. Busy I guess, he always is. But I was wondering now. Joey had been a bit moody the past day or so. He was always kind of quite, though. I took a long hard look at that knife. I didn’t like the way the Professor was looking at it and I certainly didn’t like the way that Joey answered him. Not like him at all. Joey hadn’t been quite the same since he picked that thing up. There was no use talking to the kid just then though. But I decided I would pay attention. I was getting a bad feeling about that knife.
It was a couple of days later when it happened. We got the call from the plant. Trouble at the water works. At least there were no sewers this time, but still it was trouble. Unexplained pressure drop. Probably someone tapping into the line for a still. We’ve got a lot of bootleggers in this town. More illegal stills and breweries than I can count. Stopping that isn’t my department, but when they don’t pay for the water, then I get involved. They can say they’re bottling soda pop or water like everyone else in town. It’s not like the water company asks a lot of questions.
Joey and I drove over, parked a bit away and decided to have a look round. We saw a few cars and a guy standing guard with a Tommy gun in a gray felt hat with a black band. Tolino’s boys. I nodded to Joey and he hunched down with his machine pistol. I snuck round with a few charges. Joey’s thing was knives, mine was demolitions. Staying low I put down a few carefully placed explosives. Carefully placed not to damage the pipes. If we were going to go after a pack of Tolino’s rats I wanted an edge. It didn’t take long. A few minutes later I circled back around to Joey and then we stood up and walked in together. Me with my piece. Joey with the knife.
The guy on watch finally spotted us when we waked straight up to him.
“Ok that’s far enough pally. Take a walk.” He said pointing the rod towards us.
I turned to Joey and smiled. “Now that’s rich, isn’t it Joey. Here we are talking to a trespasser, we’re from the water company, and he tells us to get lost.” I turned to him and spoke sharply. “Look pal. The party is over. Get your boys and clear out and we’ll forget about this. But get moving now.”
His reply was most eloquent. He pointed the piece directly at us and said. “Scram.”
My answer was just as wordy. I touched the radio control I was holding. There was a loud explosion behind the rat. When he turned to look, I let him have it. Him and the next guy that came up. Joey dropped one with his knife, and the rest started off. We split up then. Joey went round a corner with the knife and I took after a goon with a shotgun. He looked a little worse for wear. Must have been in the blast. But I wasn’t yet sure what he was up to. He ducked behind some pipes and I fired a burst near him. That’s when he wised up and threw down his piece.
“This ain’t worth it.” He said.
“You’re right about that.”
“You calling the cops.”
“I don’t need the paperwork. Your boy here’s still alive. Get him out of here. You get him to the doc’s right away and he’ll live. Tell Tolino he’s welcome to water. If he pays for it.”
“I’ll tell him. He won’t like it, but I’ll tell him.”
Just then I heard a scream by where Joey had left. I started running. I was worried about the kid. That knife hadn’t made the creep in the sewers invulnerable.
When I came round the corner I was in for a surprise. Two of Tolino’s boys were there. Dead. I almost tripped over the first one.
I’d seen bodies before but not like this. It was like they were dried out husks. Not much human left about them. Joey was standing over the second one. Knife in hand. I didn’t like the look in his eyes.
“You Ok Joey?” I asked.
He gave a curt nod in reply. I asked again.
“I’m fine!” He shouted at me. He didn’t look fine though. His eyes had kind of a red glow around them.
The guy from Tolino had come up behind us.
“What did you do to them!” He said in a horrified whisper.
“Nothing you didn’t plan for us.” Joey said. Knife in hand he took a step towards the remaining gangster.
“I said I surrender!” the gangster said taking a step back.
Joey took a step forward. I held him back.
“Easy Joey, It’s over!”
Joey turned to me with fierce look in his eyes. It wasn’t a friendly look.
“Joey?” I said. “It’s me Mitch. Take it easy. We don’t need a war with Tolino.”
He froze for a second. Then that weird light in his eyes died down. “Yea, ok.” He mumbled.
“That was murder man. Freddie wasn’t armed he’s just the pipe guy.”
I turned on the rat. “Just be glad you are walking out of here alive. You go and tell Tolino to square it with the water company. Do it or else there are going to be a few more husks around, got it.”
He got it. He ran out of there so fast it was funny. Joey thought so too and we had a good laugh about it. Still, I was really worried. Joey wasn’t much help with the paperwork. I covered for him, but this wasn’t good. That knife was evil, no question about it.
Next day I had a chance to get away from Joey for a while and I looked up the professor. He seemed to be expecting me and I found him at the Bar in the Club. He had a seat and beer waiting for me. I didn’t ask him how he knew. I just got down to business.
“I think we’d better get that knife away from Joey.” I said.
The Professor nodded and smiled. “I wish it was that simple.”
I rolled my eyes. “I was afraid of that. What do we have to do, travel to the other side of the planet and drop it in a volcano or something.”
“Mitch, it’s a spirit knife. A spirit attached to an ordinary knife. Destroy the knife and the sprit will just find another knife to live in.”
“So we’ve got to tackle the spirit,” I replied.
“You’ve got to tackle Joey. As long as he’s a willing partner with the spirit, there’s nothing you can do. Destroy the knife, destroy the spirit, he’ll still be drawn to it, or it’s masters,” the professor answered. More bad news.
“Are you telling me touching that knife made him evil?” I asked.
“No, Mitch. We all face choices. Decisions to turn good or evil. Some are more dramatic than others. Encountering the knife is a time of spiritual searching for Joey.”
“Some kind of soul test? Well let me tell you he’s flunking big time. I’ve never seen Joey take to anything before the way he’s taken to that knife.”
“Perhaps it’s Joey you’ve never really seen before,” The professor said, sadly.
“Great. Can’t we do an exorcism or something?” I asked hopefully.
“Mitch, you brought Joey into the club. You took him under your wing. You’re the only one he trusts, if he still trusts anyone,” he said. It was true. I’d met Joey down at the shooting range. He was down on his luck, and he needed a break. I saw he could shoot straight and I’d got him a job with the company. He made a good partner.
I finished my beer. “I’ll talk to him.” The professor was right. I was probably the only one who could.
Later I found Joey in his room. I was shocked when I walked in. It was empty. Joey had always had a great collection of knives. They were all gone.
“Where are your knives?” I stammered as I entered.
“Sold them.” He said, matter of factly. “Got some real money for them too. I don’t need anything but this now.” He said holding up the knife.
Gently I pushed the hand with the knife down on the table. “You don’t need that either Joey. You’re the best partner I’ve ever had. You’re a good shot, cool under fire and your knife work is top notch.”
He looked up at me. “Thanks, Mitch.”
“Joey that knife is no good for you.”
“Aw, Mitch, not you too. I tell you this knife is the best thing that ever happened to me.”
“Joey, It’s me talking. I’ve seen what that knife’s doing to you, and I don’t like it. I don’t like it one bit.”
“You just want it for yourself.”
“That’s the knife talking. It says a lot of things like that I’ll bet.”
“What if it does?”
“Look, Joey, you know as well as I that most of what washes down to those sewers is garbage. It ain’t healthy picking things up down there you know nothing about. You know that. You know I’m no good with words Joey. I’m college of hard knocks, same as you. We’ve known each other a while. I’m telling you you’ve got to get rid of that thing.”
“Or what? Joey, I ain’t your mother. But I need a partner I can rely on. I can rely on you, but I can’t rely on that knife. I’m asking you to trust me and get rid of that thing. Really get rid of it. Get some help from the professor. See the Priest. Run away from that thing. We can beat this but it’s got to come from you.”
“Why should I?”
“Joey, cause I’m your friend and I’m telling you that you’ve got to for you own sake. It’s no good for you. That thing is evil. Joey if you’ve ever trusted me on anything. Trust me on this.”
For a second I thought I had won. For a second he put down the knife.
“You mean it don’t you Mitch,” he said looking carefully at me.
“That I do partner.”
“Ok. I’ll think about it.”
“No really Mitch. Look I’ll take it down and put it in the safe. It’s a big decision though I want to sleep on it. You’ve no idea what the knife is offering,” he said.
“I think I do. I just don’t trust it. You shouldn’t either.”
“I’ll think about it. Really Mitch.”
I knew Joey and I’d pushed him as hard as he’d take. “Ok. But think away from that knife. Ok?”
“Sure thing, Mitch, and hey, Mitch. I do appreciate you’re looking after me buddy.”
“That’s what friends are for.”
I watched him take it downstairs and put it in the safe. I thought it would do him some good to get out for a bit so I suggested a movie. He declined, saying he wanted to turn in early. That was Ok by me, we’d talk in the morning. I watched him put the knife behind him and turn around and head back upstairs to bed. I wasn’t a bit sleepy though, so I went and caught a show on my own. Nothing more I could do for Joey right now.
I got back late. When I came home there was an unwelcome surprise. Detective Hague was waiting for me in the lobby. Detective Hague is about the only honest cop in town. He works homicide. He’s one of the guys who reads my reports. I wasn’t glad to see him. He doesn’t make social calls to our club. We exchanged greetings then he got down to business.
“I’ve been finding a lot of bodies lately, Mitch. Strange bodies. More like husks than corps.”
“Now the rumor is that the first ones were found when the Tolino mob tried to tap into the water works.”
“Really? What sort of bodies you been finding lately.”
“So far nothing the boss is going to loose sleep over. A couple of gangsters. And now a bum. Some of these homeless types can get a little violent, so maybe it was self defense. Maybe. But I’ve seen this pattern before, Mitch. It doesn’t stop.”
“I don’t suppose it does.”
“Joey around? Maybe I should have a word with him.”
“What good would it do?” I asked.
Hague turned to me. “Mitch I didn’t come here expecting a lot of answers. I know how it is in this town. People are clannish. One of the gang gets into trouble, everyone else covers for him. Tolino works that way. Most of the other gangs do to. Now I know the Club here isn’t exactly a gang. But there are some people here I wouldn’t want mad at me if I could help it. On the other hand, it looks to me like Joey is heading straight for my territory. Maybe you can do something before it’s too late.”
I looked straight at Hague. “You know I’ve never killed anyone except in self defense, Hague. You know that.”
“I know it Mitch. I know it about you. I’ve never had any trouble with the Club before. Some people in here walk pretty close to the edge, but till now you’ve always been the good guys. I hope that’s not changing.”
I put down my drink. “That isn’t changing, Hague. I’m going to take care of it. You’ve got my word on that.”
“Just give me a couple of days, Hague. That’s all I ask.”
Hague nodded and left. He’d be back soon. But I maybe had one last chance.
I went to check the safe. I saw the knife wasn’t there. Joey wasn’t around either. That was OK. I had a few things to do. Things to do that were better done when he wasn’t around.
Joey had got in real late. I caught up with him the next day. It was a Saturday and we weren’t working. He usually takes his car out for a drive on his day off if the weather’s nice. I timed it to meet up with him just as he pulled the car out of the garage. I was only a little surprised to see him pull up in a brand new convertible. He saw me and stopped. I walked around and admired the new wheels. He sure didn’t get that on our salary.
“Nice,” I said. “Been saving up?”
“Things have been going well lately.” he answered.
“So you’re keeping the knife, eh, Joey?” I said.
Joey looked up at me. “I’ve been thinking about it. It’s a risk maybe, but it’s helping me a lot Mitch,” he said patting the wheel. “I’m going to hold onto it for a while.”
I nodded my understanding. “Where are you off too? I’ve got to check the west side sewers. I could use you on that one.”
“A little later, Ok. I’ve got things to do.”
“Things like feeding the knife?”
“Lay off the knife, Mitch, will you,” Joey said.
“Ok.” I said, and maybe something about the way I said it made him wonder. We’ve been partners for a long time after all.
“I would hate to be on your bad side, Mitch. I’d have to keep checking my car for bombs. No bombs in this car are there Mitch?”
“No Joey. No bombs in the car.”
Joey smiled. “Well I’ve got some things to do. I’ll be seeing you Mitch.”
“Good bye, Joey.”
He put the car into gear and started down the road. I reached into my pants pressed a button and watched the car explode.
No Joey, there were no bombs in the car. I respect you far too much for that. After all you were one of our own. A kid I had trained myself to be the best, and that you were. No when I went after you I took extra special care. The bomb was in the street just over a gas main. Comes in handy knowing the city’s pipe layout sometimes. It all got filed away as a tragic accident. This town has a lot of trouble with the pipes, I can sure testify to that. One little gas line rupture just didn’t get too much attention, especially as Joey had been working hard to make himself unpopular with the cops, and most of the gangs in town.
The knife? Well now that it didn’t have a host, the Professor was able to do something about it at last. Put it out of the way before it could tempt anyone else into damnation. That was the least we could do for you Joey. I don’t know if that counts as avenging your death, but we sure tried as best we could.
Of course I know that probably doesn’t make you sleep much better. The guy who killed you is still very much alive and he got clean away with your murder. But from what Detective Hague said to me, I figure my record’s still intact. I’ve killed lots of people, but only in defense of myself or others and this time is no different. Joey had become a danger to everyone around him with that damned knife and someone had to do something about it. Sorry Joey, but God, and Country still come before friends. Sometimes a man’s got to shoot his own dog or blow up one of his friends. I’d like to think my friends would do the same to me if I started down that path you were walking Joey. It’s tough to live with it. Tough to look in the mirror each day and not be able to talk about it. But I sleep better now knowing you aren’t out there knifing another person each night getting less and less particular each day about who it was. I should shut up now. I’m not supposed to talk about this. But it sure helps to tell someone.
Name, address, city, time, and planet withheld for the obvious reasons.
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