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.
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.