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Posts Tagged ‘70s’

Hands above his head The Rat was taken back down into the cellar, gun in the small of his back, pushed on while others watched. Hard men all, skinheads in crudely made t-shirts, union jacks and swastikas, bulldog tattoos. A few women, hatchet faced and lean, like greyhounds. Mixed amongst them were the cops, a good number of them, cheap suits, cheap cigarettes, cheap beer. There was a certain look to them, men made cynical by living on the front line of crime, become the very thing they claimed to hate, the line blurred between them and they didn’t even know it. The Rat knew exactly what he was.

Another push, past the growling mob of half-cut self-selected ‘Aryans’ and into the back room, nothing but barrels and a cheap chair. The Rat drew his hands down, risking it for a glance at the heavy watch on his wrist, getting a smack on the back of the head with the barrel of the revolver for his trouble. Reeling he began to count in his head, one-potato, two-potato, three-potato…

Hunter and Ague bustled him down into the chair and slammed the door on the mob outside, the dim little chamber lit by nothing but a single fly-speckled bulb. They shoved him down and held him there, taking off their ties to lash him into place and then standing back from him, conferring in hushed whispers while he counted away, head down, just waiting.

He didn’t have to wait too long.

Hunter stepped forward and smashed a fist into his tender gut. The chair slid back with the force of the impact and smacked into the barrels at the back of the room. The Rat grunted into his mask, lips still moving, out of sight, counting on, no matter what they did.

“Just a taste you little fucking freak. I don’t know who or what you think you are you little turd, but we’re going to get it out of you. Got it?” Hunter was practically spitting in his face, froth spattering on the lenses of the mask.

Ague took off his belt and moved around behind him, drawing it around his neck and pulling it tight, knee against the back of the chair to choke him. The Rat tightened his neck muscles, gritting his teeth, still counting off the numbers one after another.

“Loosen it John,” Hunter gestured to the other cop who let the belt up a little, The Rat breathed heavy through the mask and tilted his head up to look at Hunter.

“Tell us who you are, before we take that stupid looking mask off and get a proper look at you,” Hunter rested his hands on The Rat’s shoulders and leaned in close, right into his face again, a grimacing, bloody-faced troll.

i’m the black rat.

“And just what, the merry fuck, is that supposed to mean? You’re not black, I can see your neck and you look nothing like a rat, you just smell like one. Just what the fuck do you think you are?”

i’ll explain, if you’ll listen.

Hunter smashed his fist for a second time into The Rat’s gut, throwing him back against Ague who tightened the belt again. “Go ahead,” Ague hissed into his ear. “If it’s bollocks though, you’re going to be in even worse trouble.”

The Rat coughed through the mask and clenched his fists, still counting silently in his mind, he just needed a little longer.

the black rat spread the plague, a plague that at its height killed perhaps one third of all the people in europe. they thought it was judgement day. they thought it was the end of the world. it kept coming back again and again until the annus mirablis in sixteen-sixty-six, which many believed to be the end of the world. it took a fire, sweeping away this city for the plague to come to a halt, for judgement to come to a halt. rats are everywhere, you’re never far from them. they’re adaptable, they’re survivors and they carried a disease that took away so many. i’m a vigilante, i’m here to bring justice until a new fire sweeps the likes of you away. the corrupt. the criminal. murderers and tyrants who oppress those they’re supposed to protect.

“All very pretty,” Hunter shook his head. “Tells us pretty much bugger all though. I guess it doesn’t matter though. You can’t go to anyone and you’re not going to be any threat to anyone once we’re done with you. Fucking choke the cunt Ague.” Hunter twisted away, jerking his thumb back. Ague tightened his fists and pulled, the leather strap biting into The Rat’s neck tight, choking off his air.

The Rat went limp, counting still, just a few more if his reckoning was correct. He held his breath, struggling to breath in when he could, the belt digging tighter and tighter into his neck, the edge of his vision beginning to dim, and then…

…the lights went out.

A scheduled power cut to save energy, they’d been so caught up in dealing with him they hadn’t been paying attention. In the sudden dark Ague and Hunter couldn’t see.

The Rat could.

His legs weren’t bound and he threw himself back, into Ague, swinging one heavy, booted foot up. The steel toe crashed into Hunter’s crotch and even the gristly ogre couldn’t withstand that. He gave an explosive “Oof,” and sank to the floor like a deflating balloon.

“What the fuck?” Blinded by the sudden lack of light Ague panicked, yanking even harder on the belt, blood ran down The Rat’s chest. With a snarl he yanked forward, pulling even tighter on the belt, vision blacking out a moment, sparks swimming in the darkness from lack of air as he hauled Ague onto his back and then jumped back, hard, slamming Ague into the barrels with a horrible crunch of breaking bone.

As Ague went limp The Rat tore through the ties that bound his wrists, yanked on the belt, pulling it away and gasping for air, yanking the mask up over his mouth for thirty second or so to gulp down precious oxygen until his vision cleared, then pulling it back down, preparing himself. They were right, he couldn’t go to any authorities, nobody would believe him, he’d have to take care of them himself. He’d have to make sure they couldn’t keep doing what they were doing.

There was only one way to do that.

The Rat burst out of the back room with one savage kick from his steel-toed boot, smashing open the door so hard it knocked a man off his feet into the wall, face first. The lights were off, but lamps were being lit. They still couldn’t see properly but through those red lenses The Rat could see just about everything.

A flying hammer smashed one of the lamps, arcing sideways through the air, revealing the scene in a brief flesh of flame as burning paraffin set light to the table and the hammer smashed into a man’s face.

The Rat flew into them, all of them, outnumbered but savage, determined. They were blind and he could see. Steel toes shattered knees, thick soles slammed into stomachs. They couldn’t work out where he was, they got in each other’s way trying to get to him.

Light flashed again as the table caught from the burning lamp, catching a glimpse of another hammer smashing into the side of a man’s jaw, spraying teeth and lodging in the side of his face. The Rat abandoned it, stamping on another leg to break it, catching a blindly swung crowbar and twisting it around and down, snapping the man’s collarbone like kindling and dropping it.

Someone managed to snatch a fistful of the trailing torn tails of his coat, bringing him up short. His hand went down to his belt and yanked free a hacksaw blade, slashing, giving the man a bloody grimace from ear to ear, a bubbling scream as he went down, clutching the flapping lapels of his cheeks.

A women’s face gave him pause, for an instant, long enough for her to stab a switch-blade into the hidden mail beneath his clothes, the blade twisted aside by the metal. So much for not hitting girls. He threw her back bodily against the wall and stabbed clear through her shoulder with a screwdriver, pinning her to the wall.

The fire was spreading now and what was left of them were scrambling back for the stairs. The Rat stood, silhouette against the spreading fire, surrounded by broken and scarred men and women who would never work again and his prey stared back at him as he fixed them with his red glare.

this stops.

They ran.

***

Hunter awoke. It was damp. It stank. He was tied, hand, foot, neck, to an old wooden chair. Bound tight with his own cuffs and metal wire from a building site. He was stiff, his face swollen, his balls aching, three sizes two big. He tried to ease his knees apart to lessen the pain. It didn’t help.

His one good eye, the other swollen shut, slowly adjusted to the dark. Not far from his face was chicken wire. He twisted his head this way and that, trying to jump his body to move the chair, he was surrounded by it, a cylindrical cage that ran from the stinking slop that flowed under the chair all the way up to the brick ceiling, and a drainage hole, stalactites of centenarian mortar hanging from its edge like teeth. The only light was the dim red glow of round red eyes.

“Let me go. Do you know who I am? Do you have any idea of the shit you’ll be in for doing this to me?” Hunter’s thunder was lessened, considerably by his straits. There was even a hint of fear in his voice.

i need to make an example. to make sure the others don’t carry on.

“You sick little fuck. Those people are going to destroy our country!” Hunter wrestled manfully with the bonds, but he couldn’t move. The chair had been bolted to the brick.

i think we’ve heard enough from you.” The Rat stood up and smacked a wrench against the pipes, a hollow boom sounding in all directions. Then he simply stood there, silent, waiting, watching.

“Is that supposed to scare me?” Hunter snorted contemptuously, wrists bloody as he pulled at the cuffs. The Rat just pointed up and Hunter looked. In the dim red light from The Rat’s lenses he saw another scarlet glitter, up in the opening. Then another and another until the darkness seemed full of little red stars.

Then they came.

A tide of rats.

The Black Rat turned away, rubbing his bruises, stepping away into the darkness, leaving the man and his screams behind.

Judgement day. The fire would come soon.

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Inspector Ague strode back out of the building and out to his waiting car. He’d driven alone once he was alerted that someone, something, somebody was on to the Wilkins case. He hadn’t put much stock in the stories about the black-clad vigilante before but now, it seemed, there was definitely something to it. He eased into the creaking leather seat and lit a fresh cigarette, the electric lighter glowing in the dark like a firefly. It made a satisfying ‘clunk’ as he plugged it back in and then sat back to think a minute.

Did it really matter? That was the question. So this vigilante had found Wilkins’ body and, perhaps, had some suspicions but who would listen to a strange man who wouldn’t even show his face? If he got the information to anyone else would they be able to do anything? They weren’t under internal investigation, they had pretty free reign and nobody gave that much of a damn about anyone like Wilkins, or proper procedure, so long as the results were good.

Ague took a deep, soothing drag on his fag and rested his head back into his seat, turning the key to start the rumbling engine. It was still worth keeping the unit warned in case this guy caused trouble but, now he actually took the time to think about it, it wasn’t that worth worrying about. He heaved a deep sigh of relief and laughed around his cigarette, moving the car out onto the street.

The Rat clung to the underside of the car, steely fingers holding on, clinging close to the metal. The Granada was pretty high on its wheels, thankfully, but this was still dangerous as hell. His coat scraped along the road as the bent copper drove down the road. It was only luck that stopped him going full speed and scraping The Rat off on the road, that and the lack of street lighting.

He clung on.

Ague drove.

The car finally came to a halt, a dim light shining under the side and The Rat noted – with a smile – that it was parked on double-yellow lines. Police… no respect for the law.

The car door opened and slammed shut, key turning with a scraping clunk and he watched the Cuban heels retreat from view, disappearing with the creak of a heavy door and a, suddenly loud, blast of ‘Tiger Feet’. The Rat loosened his steely grip, bleeding from already scarred fingertips, every muscle aching from clinging to the car. He lay there a moment, eyes closed behind red lenses, breathing hard through the filter of the gas mask and waiting for the right moment. It came with the sound of an oncoming car and the glare of headlights. Anyone looking wouldn’t be able to see. He rolled, out from under the car, below the sill of the pub windows and hunkered down, skimming around the outside of the building and into the dark of the empty beer garden. Autumn was no time to drink outside.

Dim light shone out from inside, low wattage bulbs masked by the shadows of those inside moving around. The music was reduced to its bass thump by the walls as he crept, unnoticed, in amongst the bins and the rubbish, his namesakes running for cover as he disturbed them and pressed up against the door, pushing it open a crack, fingertips scabbing over, listening and looking.

Steam billowed out as the cold air rushed in from outside. It must be the kitchen. The damp smell of overcooked vegetables came out along with the steam, that and the scent of frying chips. It made his stomach grumble beneath the thick leather and wool but he eased the door open a little more, glancing past, through, into the lounge beyond. It was a bit of a mixed crowd. Didn’t seem that much like a police pub. Lots of leather jackets, long hair, cheap suits. A working man’s pub, or a non-working man’s pub perhaps, some had the downtrodden look of those who’d been out of work a while. Of Ague or any other obvious police, there was no sign, but the ‘private function’ sign on the chain that marked the entrance to the cellar bar was still swinging.

The Rat clipped in through the door, pulling the ragged tails of his coat behind him. It was suddenly hot, humid, like being wrapped in a huge wet blanket. Fat bubbled in the fryer, pots on the stove as he kept low, moving past the cheap fitted cabinets to press into the side, risking a quick peek out the front. Most of the people in the bar had their heads turned to the wood-effect television, the flickering coloured image of some football game recap keeping them entranced. He was about to step out when a woman, all hair, earrings and choking perfume swept past him into the kitchen, shouting without looking back over her shoulder.

“Chicken and chips weren’t it?”

The Rat waited until the man shouted back and then whipped through the door, holding the train of his coat like a skirt to stop it rustling, sliding forward, down, beneath the chain, into the steps, slinking down them step by slow step until the voices below were louder than the music above, hidden in the shadows, ear cocked to hear what was being said.

“So, while this weird little fuck’s found out something’s off with that wog and the way he was done in. I don’t think there’s anything he can do about it. Who’s going to believe a freak like that?” There was laughter at that. “Still, we should be a bit more careful, take it as a warning sign.”

“This change anything for us?” Another voice, lacking the authority of Ague, but challenging, strong, not one of the police that worked with him then.

“Not a bloody thing mate. You keep doing what you’re doing and we’ll keep covering for you. Just keep feeding us anything you find out. Right?”

“I reckon those Pakis down the west road are dealing stolen tellies out the back.” Another voice, piping up, a rumble of assent from the other men down below.

“If not, they will be by the time we’re done. Right lads?” There was laughter again as Ague payed to the crowd. “Reckon you can get a few TVs ready Bull, just in case?”

“No problem John, besides, we can blame it on them either way it goes. Right?”

“Right. Well before we make any concrete plans Hunter needs to get here. Yeah? Then we can figure out precisely what the fuck it is we’re doing.”

Hunter? There was another one who wasn’t here yet. The Rat shifted around and turned to head back up the stairs, only to walk almost right into a bullet-headed beast of a man in a chocolate suit.

“What the fuck are you doin’ ‘ere?” The big bald man scowled, face wrinkled like a clenched fist and The Rat launched himself into him, propelling himself up the stairs like a cannonball into the big man and hurling them both back, the chain snapping as they went down.

There was a scream from the woman with the earrings as The Rat straddled the big man’s barrel chest and slammed one heavy gloved hand into the man’s jaw. He had to make this quick and get away, the whole pub would be on him in a second. It was like punching a wall, the man’s lip split but he was gristle and scar tissue anyway and didn’t seem perturbed. Steely eyes fixed on The Rat from beneath the man’s gnarled brow and he brought up his own hands, slapping The Rat squarely either side of his head, pain exploding in his eardrums, the sound of the pub abruptly dimmed, the brute’s voice sounding suddenly far away.

“Reckon you’re ‘ard do you?” As The Rat reeled the Neanderthal in the chocolate suit reared up, throwing him off, grabbing hold of his shoulder and slamming his fist into The Rat’s gut. “What’ve you got under there? Metal or summink?”

It wasn’t helping, blow after blow smashed into The Rat’s belly knocking the breath from him, maybe cracking a rib. He had to fight back, and quick. A deep painful breath and he threw his head back. Nobody else had reacted yet, too surprised. His head came forward again, hard, smashing into the big bastard’s nose, already twisted and broken god knew how many times. Eyes watering the big man dropped him and fell back against the wall, splintering the cheap wooden cladding as he did and sliding down.

Bent over, The Rat went in to finish him, fist back, clenched, only to find himself staring down the gaping barrel of a cult. Tears and blood running down his face the bullish man help the gun steady in one meaty fist, unwavering as it hovered before The Rat’s mask and he froze like a statue, fist still poised.

The big man growled around his teeth like he was chewing rocks. “I’m The Sweeny and you’re fucking nicked my old son.”

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In the depths of the red-brick arteries of London The Black Rat moved, lit only by the dim ruby glow of the lamp at his wrist. To his eyes though, behind those mysterious blood-red lenses, the sewage tunnel was lit up as clear as day, as was the dead man’s wallet.

With seemingly effortless grace The Rat paced along the side of the tunnel, hunkered down and leant to the side from the curve of the wall, balanced precariously on a ledge barely more than a brick wide. He didn’t need to look, he knew where he was going. After that incident it wouldn’t be long before the body ended up in the morgue, though given what he now knew it was likely they’d get their own man to examine the body. There was a very small window of time to get there and to get some more expert advice.

don’t worry mr wilkins,” he breathed through the mask, “we’ll get to the bottom of this.” He tucked the dead man’s wallet into the depths of his ragged coat and picked up the pace, as fast as he dared go next to this river of filth.

***

Gladys sat, smoking, balanced precariously on a stool and frowning over her glasses at the telephone. Working nights was bad enough, checking corpses in and out from mindless drunken accidents or car crashes. Every once in a while she’d get a nice juicy murder in and things would get exciting for a while but not this time. Sure it was a nice juicy murder but she wasn’t supposed to touch the body. She was supposed to leave it alone until the morning when Doctor Bassett would be able to get in and take a look. She didn’t see what was so bloody important about this corpse in particular. She’d looked him over briefly, just another dead black guy, an occurrence that – while still rare – had happened enough in her career to make her blasé. Poverty and drugs never seemed to lead to a happy ending for anyone.

There was a subtle creak from the door and an all too familiar stink. A noise and a smell that always seemed to mean trouble for her.

“Rat,” she said, without even turning around. Stubbing out her Silk Cut in a kidney dish.

i need to take a look at your fresh meat.

“I didn’t think you were here for a social call,” Gladys sighed and hopped down off her stool, barely five feet two inches, petite, blonde and quite bosomy, she wasn’t what most people might have thought of when it came to a mortuary attendant or a doctor. Still, she gave off that world weary cynicism that so many medical professionals seemed to share. “Here we are, a John Doe, Jamaican , apparently associated with some important anti-drugs operation,” she flipped back the sheet to reveal the body and stood close by. “I’m not supposed to examine him. Supposed to wait for Doctor Bassett in the morning.”

his name is gareth wilkins. i think he was a drug dealer but drugs and money were planted on him. after he was beaten to death.

“There wasn’t anything on him.”

because i took it.

“That will be why the police are after you then.” Gladys smiled and leaned over the corpse on the slab, she couldn’t touch, but she could look.

oh? They’re after me?” The Rat leaned against the other side of the slab and regarded her with those expressionless red lenses.

“Well,” Gladys looked back at him over her glasses. “Someone of your description. There aren’t many people of your description.”

noted. Can you take a look for me?” His black gloves gestured over the body and his head tilted to one side, questioningly.

“Well, if I do too much they’ll know, but I can give you some basics.”

The Rat folded his arms and stepped back to let her work.

“The beating occurred some time ago, perhaps as much as twenty-four hours,” she gestured with the tip of a chewed biro as she talked, suddenly all clipped professionalism. “The cause of death was one of these blows to the skull, but the rest were certainly no fun either and probably would have killed him. I’d have to open him up to be sure… and I can’t do that.”

do you know what was used to kill him?

“Again, not without getting full access to the body but I’d say a variety of instruments. Bats, maybe a tire iron, possibly a crowbar.”

what about a truncheon?

“Could be,” Gladys leaned closer and pointed at a series of bruises along the dead man’s legs. “These look likely candidates, but I’d need to test it.”

The Rat pushed up his sleeve and revealed one muscular, scarred, hairy arm, lined with bruises from the copper’s truncheon. “does this help at all luv?

Gladys held his wrist and twisted his arm in the light, leaning towards him and back towards the corpse. “Hard to tell, different muscle density and colouration…”

but if you had to make a judgement?

“Yes, it’s the same,” Gladys sighed. “You’ve got no respect for proper process. Do you?”

very little. if i did i wouldn’t have been able to help you, would i?

“True enough. Still, one day you’re going to jump in with wrong information,” Gladys folded her arms and gave him a witheringly challenging stare.

There was no time to answer though. There was a clattering of doors and voices, Glady’s head flew up. “That’s Bassett’s voice, he’s not meant to be here until the morning. You’d better go.”

The Rat nodded to her, pushing his sleeve back down and moving to the door as she re-covered the corpse with the sheet and perched back on her stool, lighting a fresh cigarette and trying to look nonchalant. The Rat shoved open the door and stepped out into the corridor, straight into the view of the oncoming mob.

Red lenses took in the crowd as Rat and the men faced off, a brief pause as they stopped in surprise and then the copper with the bloodstained bandage on his nose jabbed out a finger. “Dassa bassa ‘o fuggin’ popped meh!” That seemed to break the spell and the uniformed police started to run towards him. There was another, bullish man next to the doctor at the back in an ill fitting suit and raincoat, a little more wary than the others.

The Rat paused, just long enough to flip his pursuers the V-sign and then ran, dragging what he could into the corridor behind him to slow them down, pounding towards the exit as the blue-suited goons did their best to catch him. A flying boot smacked open the double doors at the end of the corridor, out into the back lot but he turned, quick, slamming a spanner from his belt between the handles and then lunging forward again, back into the dark.

The doors slammed outwards, the spanner rattling between the handles. It didn’t take them long, rearing back and ramming their shoulders into the door until the spanner fell free with a clatter onto the pavement and the police burst out, one of their caps falling off and rolling across the floor. Of The Rat there was no sign, not a one. They fished out their torches and started shining them out into the back lot, but all they could find was an open manhole, slid aside, but not closed.

The man in the suit emerged not long after, frowning as he looked down into the hole. “Spread out, check around, maybe he didn’t go down there after all.” He remained while they vanished into the dark, distant circles of light getting smaller and smaller while he remained in the light from the doorway and fished his radio out of his suit, holding the mic up as he glowered into the open hole.

“Unit 9, unit 9, this is Inspector Ague. Gather at the usual spot to discuss the last case. There’s a problem. Acknowledge. Over.” The radio crackled and distorted voices came back, one at a time.

Balanced precariously above the lamp that hung over the door, The Black Rat watched, impassive masked face fixed upon the Inspector and listening with keen interest as the Inspector’s men checked in, counting them off. Three sergeants reporting in and talking about passing the message to their men. That could mean as many as thirty police, all involved somehow in the death of Wilkins. Long odds.

The inspector stuffed his radio back into his jacket and wheeled about smartly on one Cuban heel, marching back through the doors as The Rat slipped back down and watched him through the window. To get to the bottom of this, he would have to follow them, into the very belly of the beast, wherever and whatever that was. This was way beyond the death of Wilkins. It was something bigger, something far, far bigger.

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The two lads marched down the street, swinging their shoulders, cans of beer in their hands and long tartan scarves flowing out behind them, sloshing beer in their exuberance and shouting at the top of their lungs.

“B-A-Y, B-A-Y, B-A-Y C-I-T-Y, With an R-O-double-L, E-R-S, Bay City Rollers are the best!”

“SHUT UP!” Came a hoarse holler from further down the street, the shape of a naked, beer-bellied man silhouetted by a dim, flickering yellow light. “Some of us are trying to sleep!”

“Fuck of you wanker!” The lads shouted back in unison and then ducked into a side alley together, one of them stopping at the mouth to watch the street while the other vanished back into the dark and yanked a can of spray paint out of his pocket, spraying the wall, writing out the name of his idols one giant letter at a time.

He’d just finished the ‘Y’ when he stumbled against something in the dark, fumbling out his lighter and flicking it on, casting a shaky light over the alley. Half – or more – of the street lights were out, it was the only way to see, but you could get away with a lot in the dark. Swings and roundabouts.

The dancing flame revealed a pile of newspaper and cardboard, but there was something underneath it, something heavy that wouldn’t shift. He crouched down, curious, and threw back the card and paper back out of the way, falling back with a little girly shriek as the light revealed the battered black face of a corpse.

“There’s a dead wog back here Derek!”

The other lad came scrambling back and took out his pocket torch, flicking it on and playing it over the corpse. “Fuck me… check his wallet Alan.”

With the torchlight playing over the body Alan crouched down and started to rummage through the corpses clothes, plucking out his wallet. “Christ alive, there’s a Henry and at least a couple of ponies in here.”

and i am quite certain his family would like both back, if, indeed, they are his.” The voice was strange, quiet, muffled, but it had a way of cutting clean across your perception, right through the sound of traffic and the huffed breaths of the two youths.

They turned, as one, towards the end of the alley and Derek’s torch played over a strange figure. He wasn’t tall, perhaps five seven, five eight at the most. He was dressed entirely in black from top to bottom, a ragged figure in black leather jeans and a ragged old trench coat with a high collar. Even his hands were covered with black gloves. The only colour they could see were gleaming red circles in the dark like demonic eyes, but they weren’t, they were lenses, lenses on a gas mask.

“Who the fuck is this spaz?” Alan stood tall, now he’d recovered from the surprise. Stepping towards the strange man at the mouth of the alley.

what’s wrong with you that you’d steal from a corpse? What’s wrong with you that you’d have no respect for this poor, dead man?

“What’s wrong with you that you give a fuck you weird-lookin’ nonce?” Alan stepped up to him and reached out to shove the short man’s shoulder, unsettled by his strange appearance and wanting to feel strong in front of his friend.

The man in black twisted with the shove and balled his left hand into a fist, bringing it hard across Alan’s jaw. It hit him like a steam train, the gloved weighted with lead filings. There was a crunch from his jaw and teeth parted company with jaw as he was bodily flung into the wall of the alley, spitting enamel and giving a strange, gurgling, bloody scream as he slumped to the ground, clutching his ruined mouth.

“Keep the fuck back from me!” Derek stumbled away, keeping the torch on the man as he slowly walked towards him, fumbling in his back pocket for his switchblade, clicking it open and holding it out threateningly in his shaking hand.

you really don’t want to do that.” The man pushed back his jacket to reveal a dark leather belt around his waist from which hung a half dozen ‘holsters’ each a different shape.

“Is that a utility belt? Do you think you’re Adam West or something?” Derek laughed, nervously, stepping forward, jabbing threateningly with the knife.

The man feinted right with his fist and Derek slashed at him with the blade, scraping across leather only to get his wrist snatched in the man’s other hand. He wasn’t big, but he was strong and Derek was slammed against the back wall, his arm held in that iron grip as the man unbuckled one ‘holster’ with a fluid motion, snatching out a hammer and smashing it into Derek’s hand, shattering small bones and making him keen like a banshee.

no, it’s a tool belt.

The red-eyed man in black handcuffed the two men together – no points in wasting cuffs – and left them clinging to each other, weeping and swearing around their wounds and the blood, taking what comfort they could from each other.

Leaving them to their misery he stepped over to the body and respectfully uncovered it, pushing back his sleeve and playing dim red lights over it, plucking up the discarded wallet for a look at it. There was something off about this, the money, the drugs, the way he’d been killed.

The body was covered in long, straight bruises, clustered around the top of his body. A tentative touch confirmed broken, floating ribs, found swollen and bruised flesh, a softness here and there on the man’s skull where the bone had been cracked and shattered. The man had been systematically beaten to death over the course of some time.

The man in black peeled back the gas mask, just up over his nose and his mouth, revealing a broad, bristled chin as he leaned down to sniff at the corpse.

ganj, so he was a dealer after all,” he murmured to himself, pulling the mask back down and turning back to the wallet. Something didn’t add up.

Opening it up there wasn’t much in there, just some cards and paper, the only notes were crisp and new. The drugs, an eighth of an ounce of marijuana resin, were in a brand spanking new plastic bag, way too large for the small amount of drugs that was there. Something was absolutely, definitely, off.

There wasn’t time right now to think it through, there was the roar of an engine and the squeal of tyres. The man in black darted his head around, the red lenses of his mask darkening in the suddenly harsh light of the beams. The doors flew open and heavy shoes slammed down on the pavement. He scrambled back away from the body but the alley stopped in a dead end, the heavy closed door at the back of a chippy.

“’Ello, ‘ello, ‘ello…” laughed one of the coppers as they strolled up towards him, hand thrust into his pocket, pushing through the sling on his truncheon and dragging it out, slapping it into his palm while his partner hung back a bit.

i don’t want to hurt you, but i will if i have to.

“Are you threatening a police officer, squire?” His partner was paying attention now, taking out his own truncheon, the pair of them blocking the whole exit.

“Christ…” said the copper at the back, spotting the rollers and the state they were in. “A body and two beatings? Off to an early start today this evening aren’t we Sir?” The two police looked to each other and their demeanour changed, subtly.

body?” The penny dropped. Nobody would have managed to get word out about the body yet. They’d barely even looked down the alley yet. They knew. They knew already. They’d always known. “what I said earlier? I’ve changed my mind.”

He pressed back against the chippy door and braced his boot against it before springing forward towards them. They met halfway down the alley, and he brought up his arms, twisting side to side, blocking one truncheon blow with his arm, the other smacking into his belly with a solid thump that surprised the copper that swung it.

That was his chance, snapping out with his fist an spreading the officer’s nose across his face, sending him sprawling with his cap flipping through the air to fall to the dirt. That was all he needed. Now there was space to run, where there were a couple of cops, there’d likely be more, especially if they knew about the corpse.

The man in black hunkered down and ran, heavy boots denting the bonnet of the Rover as he leapt up and over it, ragged leather coat streaming out behind him as he ran, the remaining cop in pursuit, dropping behind him as he wove through the darkened streets at breakneck pace, knowing them like the back of his hand.

When the policeman came to another alleyway and shined his torch down it there was no sign of the man in black. It was empty, nothing but a manhole cover and a piece of card fluttering to floor.

A piece of card with a sketch of a rat and the words “i know,” scrawled upon it.

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