Technically it was after hours, but Tia Evita, proprietor of the Little Havana restaurant, had one more customer to serve. She prepared the meal herself after sending the kitchen and wait staff home. There were now only three people in the restaurant; Evita, the boy who sweeps up after closing time, and the Clown. She marched the plate of Arroz Con Pollo to her bizarre customer and placed it in front of him.
"It looks delicious, Tia. Like always. Thank you so much."
"Don't mention it." Tia said flatly
Jennifer Gibson cursed herself. She should have run to a well lit public place with lots of people around, but she followed the lessons drilled into her by her paranoid, batshit crazy, survivalist father and went for cover. Now she was trapped at the end of a blind alley staring up at the tallest brick wall in the world.
Her father may have been insane, but he was insane on principle. The psychopath advancing on her armed with a crowbar was insanity in its rawest form. She determined not to be like the girls in horror movies who spent their last moments sobbing, screaming and begging. Jennifer stood firm and met her killers gaze as he approached. She wanted to sob and scream, but she did not.
The Hammer Horror Gambit, Version One
Daisy hunched her shoulders and looked steadily ahead, doing her best to ignore the louts catcalling as she passed by.
She already regretted not taking a more menacing form before starting for home. Maybe a large, not particularly attractive but muscular man. It was late on a Friday night, and the unfortunate combination of alcohol and testosterone was having its expected result.
She checked her six in the side mirror of a parked car and cursed silently. The trio of thugs had peeled themselves away from the wall they'd been holding up. They followed her down the street, making kissing noises and obscene gestures, uttering increasingly rude invitations.
“I swear I saw him.”
April Gardener rolled her eyes. She had several good reasons to keep Mike Bishop around, but brains and nerve were not among them. “You didn't see anything, idiot.”
“He was standing in the corner. I saw him.” Mike was carrying the lion's share of the take. He was a big boy and that helped him earn his keep.
“And I didn't.” April wished she had parked closer. She was afraid a car parked behind the pawn shop would attract attention, but they were in and out so quick that it would not have mattered.
“They say he walks through shadows. He's there one minute and gone the next. That's how he works.”
“There we go,” Magnus Ford said. “Back home safe and sound.”
Magnus was leading wild-eyed Scott Lane into the dorm room they shared.
“Let's not go back to that club, okay? It's a bit too exciting for my taste. Edgy is not always a good thing... apparently.”
Scott just stared.
“Are you thirsty? I bet you're thirsty. All that smoke in the air. Disgusting habit. You look thirsty. Here.” Magnus grabbed a sports drink from their dorm fridge and tossed it to Scott who made no effort to catch it. The bottle bounced off his chest, hit the floor and leaked a citrus colored trail as it rolled across their thrift store rug.
Scott just stared.
It was the cliché to end all clichés: little old lady with no local family or support in rent-controlled apartment tormented by the shitty building superintendent who takes advantage. For Manhattan it was a sad, all too common tale. For Ms. Berezowski it had been a living nightmare.
August, 1981, Tampa
“There’s going to be a time..”
The meaty sound of a fist striking flesh.
“…when you’ll thank me for this..”
“…and on that day…”
Thud-Thud. Two strikes in quick succession, and the rattle of chains.
“…you’re gonna look back on this one…”
The sound of ragged gasps, broken things, almost pants really - like a terrified animal that’s been beaten so often a kick is a hug.
The club was in full swing, busy even for a Friday. The after work Wall Street types were still blowing off steam and the late crowd arrived in drips and drabs until the place was maxed out and a suitably long line for such an exclusive night spot.
“Is he still here?”
Vinny Rio nodded as he held the car door for Salvatore “the Salamander” Zaffarano. Salvatore eyed his lieutenant as he exited the car.
“What the hell's wrong with you?”
“I'm fine,” Vinny said as he approached the large, block building, entered a code and opened the heavy steel door for his boss.
“You're not fine. You're a pussy. Is this still because the guy makes him self up like a clown? Jesus Christ, you're a grown man.”
Vinny flipped a switch and fluorescent lights blinked on down the length of the long utilitarian corridor. “It ain't make-up.”
“What ain't make-up?”
Brian rounded the corner at Smith and 9th just as the train went by overhead. He almost didn’t notice, so used to the sound was he. Head down, hands in pockets, he didn’t cut much of a figure. Or wouldn’t have, if he wasn’t so short. And wide. He looked like a block of wool trudging down the street. Most of the people around here knew him, but every so often he’d get the looks, the smiles, the laughs. It kept his scowl firmly in place.
He came up to a small group of people hovering around a car. He paused long enough to see what they were looking at. A flat tire on Mrs. Sullivan’s little Honda. Her two teenaged sons were arguing about something while another older man, Mr. Hills the grocer, stood rubbing his head.