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Stomp The Grass To Scare The Snakes (IC)


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Roger Pennington lived in Stone Ridge, the most exclusive neighborhood in Bedlam City.  They had an eight-foot high stone wall, an army of round-the-clock armed private security guards, and one of the most vigilant homeowner associations in the country.  His mansion may well have been one of the most secure places in the state.


It wasn't enough.


Roger's wife called up to him as he ascended the stairs to their second-floor master suite.  "The car is picking us up in an hour."  He sighed.  "Thank you, Dear."  Roger let a wry chuckle escape his throat.  His wife would have more enthusiasm than he for the Smirlock family's "charity" functions even if she wasn't half his age.  "Charity..." he muttered.  "As if any of the money ever actually makes it to the poors."


He twisted the shower spigot in the master bathroom to the "Hot" end, then turned to the sink and brushed his teeth while waiting for the water to warm up.  He had just finished his bottom back molar when the bathroom light clicked off.  The toothbrush fell out of his hand and his mouth, into the sink.  "Wha..."


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Roger froze for a fraction of a second after the light went out.  That was all the time the man creeping up behind him needed.  His right hand grabbed Roger's face, clamping down over his mouth and pulling his head back against the man's shoulder.  His left hand stabbed Roger's left hand with a crescent-shaped blade, pinning it down to the tile counter.


Roger's screams and whines were muffled by the vise-like grip of the man's hand.  A bit of streetlight trickled in through the bathroom window, just enough for Roger to see that his attacker was dressed in white, from head to toe, except for a pair of large black circles around where his eyes should be.  When he moved, pinpoints of yellow gleamed and twinkled at the center of those black circles, glaring at his reflection in the bathroom mirror.


Or so he thought.  Mister Strix couldn't see their reflection in the mirror.  He couldn't see anything.  He could smell Roger Pennington's sweat, his blood, his labored breaths behind Mister Strix's fingers.  He could hear that sweat sliding down Roger's face, could hear the blood sliding down between his fingers, and his heart practically vibrating out of his chest.  But the picture in his mind painted by his echolocation barely registered any difference between the mirror and the rest of the bathroom wall.

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Roger's hand weeped blood onto the counter.  The blood quickly slid onto the floor, pooling into the grout between the tiles.  His eyes filled up with tears.  He whimpered and struggled.  But the man in white's grip, as forgiving as a bear trap, held him firmly in place.


The man in white half-whispered, half-growled into his ear.  "The shed.  Your housekeepers sleep on the ground, and piss in a bucket.  It's not much of a servants quarters.  Locked from the outside.  Dead giveaway, even without the smell.  They're not servants.  They're slaves."


Roger tried to shake his head, but he could only move it a tiny fraction of an inch in any direction.


Mister Strix reached down with his left hand and gave the blade a slight twist.  Roger tried to wail, but with Mister Strix's hand clamped down on his mouth, he still couldn't muster more than a whimper.  "If you try to lie to me, Roger Pennington, I'll know.  I'll know, and I'll hurt you.  My name is Mister Strix, and I will never get tired of hurting you."  His left hand wrapped around Roger's left forearm and squeezed.  "Do you understand?"


Mister Strix loosened his grip slightly on Roger's face.  Roger nodded vigorously and whined "Mmm hmm!"

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Mister Strix whispered again into Roger Pennington's ear.  "Their prison has been unlocked.  They are packing for their journey.  You will make sure it is well-funded.  They leave town tonight, with your money in their pocket.  Five figures.  Enough to start a new life, a real life.  If anything happens to them, I will hold you personally responsible.  You and your friends are done buying from Brubaker's stock.  He's going out of business."  Roger's heart skipped a beat.  He didn't know the seller's name, Mister Strix mused to himself.  Must have just dealt with middle-men.  But now he knows, and he'll talk.  Good.


"Do you understand?"  Roger's shoulders slumped, and he nodded.  "Good."  The man in white slammed Roger's forehead against the mirror.  Roger's vision clouded for a second from the pain and disorientation.  When he could see straight again, all he saw was the spiderweb of cracks that used to be his bathroom mirror.  The man in white was gone.


Roger stared for a moment at the crescent-shaped blade embedded in the counter through his left hand.  Then he slipped on his own blood, fell to his knees on the tile floor, and screamed for his wife.  At least I...OW GODDAMMIT OW...at least I don't have to go to the Smirlock's ball tonight...

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Mister Strix was jumping between the rooftops of Hardwick Park when he heard the struggle.


"OW, Man, whatta you hasslin' me fo'?"


"Shuttup and getcher taco-truck @$$ in there!  Yer goin' fer a ride."


Strix turned and cleared the next two rooftops just in time to witness a pair of middle-aged white patrol cops shoving a young, handcuffed Latino man into their squadcar.  Only they weren't shoving him into the back seat.  They were stuffing him into the trunk.


One of them pulled out a cell phone.  He had the number on speed-dial.  "Yeah, we got one.  Takin' him to the beach now to read him his rights.  Yeah, will-do."


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Mister Strix couldn't run or jump as fast as the dirty cops could drive, but he knew where they were going, and he could get there in a more direct fashion.


The cops drove up to Gravesend Beach, pulled the young Latino out of their trunk, and marched him down toward the water, past the occasional pile of broken glass or sleeping homeless person, both equally oblivious.  When they neared the water, the cops kicked the young man to his knees, and pulled pistols out of their waistbands.  Not their holsters; their registered service weapons were still taking up residence there.  These guns were clearly off the books.  They laughed down at the helpless young man.


"You play wit' fire, you get burned."

"Any last words, Dirtbag?"


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The dull roar of the tides and the cops' own smug overconfidence distracted them from the pellet bouncing along the sand toward their feet.  They didn't notice it until it exploded into a cloud of white smoke, so thick they couldn't see their hands in front of their faces.  They screamed and cursed, pointing their guns in random directions.  They didn't get a chance to get their bearings, or even to get a shot off, before the guns were knocked out of their hands, and their bones started to break.


When the smoke cleared, both cops were lying prone on the sand, coughing and groaning, bound with their own handcuffs.  Mister Strix stood over them, his face inclined downward but not directly pointed at either one.  Both of their guns, their service pistols and their drop-pistols, were lying in a pile at his feet.  He knelt down, methodically emptied the clips and cleared the chambers, then threw all four guns into the water, one after another.  "You can't be trusted with these," he snarled.  Then he pulled the cops' badges off their shirts.  He turned his back on them for a moment, ran his fingers along the badges to read the numbers, and then turned back to the cops.  "And you don't deserve these."  He heaved the badges into the water as well.

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Mister Strix then knelt down next to the beaten cops, pulling their wallets and phones from their pockets.  "Why were you going to kill him?"


One of the cops groaned.  "Go to Hell, Mask.  Your type don't run things here."


Mister Strix turned his back on the cop and thumbed through his wallet.  "John MacMillan, 714 Waldron Street.  Born March 7th, 1970."  He turned back to Officer MacMillan, knelt down, and held the man's drivers license in front of his bruised face.


"You will tell me why you tried to kill this man.  You will tell me which syndicate pays you to run these little errands.  You will tell me who else is in your gang.  And then you will leave this city forever.  I don't care if you go into Witness Protection or if you just disappear.  But this town doesn't belong to your kind anymore.  You will tell me what I want to know, because if you don't, I'll make you and your friend here my special project.  These bones..."  Mister Strix rested his knee down on MacMillan's broken thigh bone.  MacMillan screamed.  "...These bones take six weeks to heal.  I'll mark my calendar.  And six weeks to the day, I'll come back.  I'll find you, at 714 Waldron Street.  And I'll break them again.  And I'll wait another six weeks, until you're all healed up, and then I'll do it again.  And again.  The people you work for will kill you if they find out you talked to me.  They might just kill you anyway, since you're not useful while you're lying in bed with broken bones.  But I won't kill you.  I'll just keep hurting you.  Forever."


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The other cop started yelling.  "The Mob!  It's the Mob!  Who do ya think we're takin' orders from?"


MacMillan growled at his partner.  "Dammit, Gabe!  Shut the hell up!"


Mister Strix addressed MacMillan's partner, but his face stayed focused on MacMillan.  "Scarpias or Gorganzuas?"


Gabe almost couldn't breathe, he was talking so fast.  "Scarpias!  Scarpias!  The boys, we do jobs for 'em sometimes.  Hit a place ain't paid their protection money.  Make someone into a missing person.  Whatever they need!"


"And this one?"


"Stupid little junkie #@$% and his wetback friends knocked over Bernie Poplawski's jewelry shop.  Guy pays protection money to the Scarpias.  Never missed a month.  Cops and capos buy our wives anniversary presents from his shop, fer chrissakes!  Nobody messes with his shop!  Orders came down from on high to make an example outta this little #@$%."

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The skinny young Latino man barely looked old enough to shave, let alone to have the several amateur prison tattoos Mister Strix felt as he ran his fingers along his arms.  He was checking for track marks, and he found them in abundance.  He pulled the man up to his feet.  "What is your name?"


The young man mumbled.  "Cesar."


"Cesar, did you do what these men said you did?"


"Gotta eat, Man.  No one else is hiring, you gotta do dirt."


"Got to get more drugs you mean."


"What else is there to do in this town?"


"Cesar, did you hurt anyone?"


"Huh?"  Cesar looked up at Mister Strix's masked face for the first time.


"When you robbed Mister Poplawski.  Did you hurt anyone?"


Cesar's heartbeat jumped.  That's a "Yes."


"What's that gotta do wit-"  Mister Strix punched him in the solar plexus.  He fell back to his knees, wheezing.


Mister Strix grabbed Cesar by the throat and lifted him back up to his feet.  "Give me the names of your friends, the ones who helped you with the robbery.  I'll tell them the same thing I'm telling you: Get out of my city.  Tonight."  He pulled Cesar around, unlocked his cuffs, and dropped him back onto the sand.  "If you're still in Bedlam tomorrow, then you become one of my special projects, too.  If the Scarpias don't kill you first.  Or if the Mara doesn't kill you to appease the Scarpias.  This city doesn't need people like you."  He turned back to the cops, still handcuffed down in the sand.  "Any of you."


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  • 3 weeks later...

Frank Brubaker stood in the northwest corner of his downstairs parlor, leaning in as he intently studied his interior decorator's latest acquisition.  The marble pillar displayed a fired clay sculpture, a human bust in profile.  The side of the face and neck facing out toward the room was open, as if the flesh had been peeled off.  Inside, the skull was flipped in the opposite direction from where it should have rested.  The shape of the head on the outside remained consistent with normal human anatomy, but the visible interior showed the vertebrae trailing down through the open mouth, while the esophagus and aorta twisted up under the teeth.


"This is the kind of sick crap that passes for art these days?"  His arms remained crossed in front of his chest as he turned around to face his decorator.  Taylor was less than a year out of her Master's program, young and blonde, Frank's favorite kind of woman.  He hadn't hesitated to play the sad widower angle for all it was worth, and he'd made sure to blur the lines between the professional and the personal as fast as he could.  He smirked as he looked her up and down.

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"Body horror is all the rage in Europe this year."  Taylor didn't look up from her phone except to roll her eyes.  Like most of the wealthy people of Bedlam City, Frank had more money than taste.  "The beauty of the grotesque.  You're lucky we could get our hands on this one.  I had two offers on this piece in the time between when you bought it and when it arrived here.  Apparently the artist's exhibitions in Paris and Barcelona both sold out."


Frank grunted.  "Hmph.  What kinda mind comes up with this stuff?"  He'd broken his fair share of faces over the years, mostly before his children were born, but he'd never turned someone inside out to play mix-and-match with their parts.


Taylor tapped and swiped the screen of her phone a few times, still not looking up.  "Some blind guy, a recluse, too tragically hip to show up to his own gallery openings.  Says here...huh.  That's weird."


Frank took a couple steps forward and quietly wrapped his arm around Taylor's waist.  "Weirder than this?"  His other hand pointed a thumb over his shoulder back at the sculpture.


"The shows were in Europe, so I just assumed he was European.  But he's American.  In fact, he lives right here, in Bedlam City."


Frank chuckled.  "Yeah, that makes sense.  This is that kinda town.  Even the fancy art's all about murder."


Taylor finally looked up from her phone.  She turned to face Frank.


"Frank...his name's Brubaker."

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Frank raised an eyebrow.  "You're kidding."


Taylor shook her head.  "No, seriously.  'Brian Brubaker.'  Is he, like, your cousin, or...?"  She trailed off.


Frank's eyes widened, almost bulging out of his skull.  "WHAT?!  What the..."  He grabbed Taylor's phone out of her hand, stared at it for a second, then shoved it against her chest.  "WHAT...HOW...THE HELL?!"  He turned away from her and started walking in half-circles, doubling back on himself.


Taylor took half a step back and swallowed.  "Frank, what's wron-"


Frank pointed a finger at Taylor's face.  "NOT NOW."  He pulled his phone out of his jacket pocket, hit one of the speed-dial buttons, and brought it up to his ear as he stormed out of the room.  "Hey, remember seven years ago, when MY BLIND SON VANISHED INTO THIN FREAKIN' AIR?!"  His voice echoed from the adjacent rooms.  "YEAH?  YOU EVER FIGURE OUT HOW THE HELL HE DID THAT?!  OH, YOU THOUGHT HE WAS DEAD?!  YEAH, SO DID I!  BUT HE ISN'T DEAD!  NO, EINSTEIN, HE'S HERE, IN MY FREAKIN' CITY!"


When Taylor heard the sound of glass shattering and wood breaking, she ran for the front door.  "IN MY CITY, AND I DON'T EVEN KNOW HE'S ALIVE UNTIL I FIND OUT FROM MY DECORATOR!  NOT MY SOLDIERS, NOT MY COPS, NOT DAPPER FREAKIN' DONNY, MY FREAKIN' DECORATOR!"

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