Slice pointed his finger at me, and I shrugged and brought my glass to my lips again. It was probably the most valuable thing in the office, the glass, I mean. It was a Waterford Black Cut Tumbler, one of what had originally been a pair. I had accepted it as partial payment for some work I did, one of my first jobs. Come to think of it, I never did collect the balance owed from that case.
A long, low chuckle came out of Slice like a slow moving freight train, “That’s it? No reaching for the gun? Just a shrug and another pull of whiskey?”
“Well, Slice, you could have killed me when I walked in. I knew you were here before I even came in; you left blood all over the hallway and door. Frankly, I’m surprised no one has seen it and called the cops already.”
“Do you want to die?”
“I wanted to find out why. So…why?”
Slice poured another slug of whiskey into his mouth. The whiskey I could live without, it was solid, don’t get me wrong, but he was dying and I still sorta felt that I owed him. He coughed a bit, and I made as if to get up from my chair, but he waved me off in a non-threatening manner. “Why’d I kill those guys? Don’t you even want to know how?”
“How you got out? I figure there must be a teleporter around somewhere, probably security is got a bit lax as you’re going to be released in a few weeks.” I shook my head and gave him a lopsided grin, “Well, you were supposed to be released. I doubt they will let you go now. Killing cops, Slice…that’s…”
“Stupid?!” he questioned with a bit of anger.
“No. Well yeah, but that’s not what I was going to say. I was going to say, that’s not what you do. Which tells me someone either set you up or motivated you to do it.”
“It’s been a long time since we ran together, Compass. You don’t know me anymore.”
“You’re right. But cop killing is a death wish. They could call down Defiance to root you out and contain you.” Defiance was an aging superhero who lived down towards Phoenix.
“Defiance? You think so?” Slice actually sounded impressed, “That’s a mighty big towel for a spill like me.” He seemed to mull that over in his head for another minute before shaking it and saying, “Nah, everyone knows he’s got the Alzheimer’s. He doesn’t get out anymore unless he has half a dozen handlers.”
“I heard something like that too. But then I see his picture once in a while from New York or Buenos Aires. The man doesn’t look like he’s dying to me. Busy maybe, but dying? No. A double murderer, though, practically in his own backyard? I bet he’d come up here.”
“Yeah, that would have been a thing to see, wouldn’t it? Me and him going at it…” A shudder passed through him, “No need now. Dog did for me well enough. A fucking dull shine and I underestimated him! I’m practically a dull shiner myself, or I was, Defiance would have torn me apart. So do you want to know why or not?”
“Yeah, actually I still do.” I leaned forward to grasp the whiskey bottle. The stem was bloody and sticky as I poured myself another dram.
“And the hooch isn’t bad either. You moved up in the world.” Slice said with a cough. A fleck of blood dotted his lower lip and was immediately licked and smeared by his tongue.
I laughed and gestured around me with my glass. “You think so?”
“From where I’ve been the last 12 years, yeah, this ain’t so bad. I wasn’t ever gonna make it on the outside, Compass.”
“I ran with the Vitellos, but their backs got broken before I even started serving my time, I was just too stupid to know it. Now? Hah!” He grabbed the bottle for another swig, “What would they do with me? If they even remembered me at all? Do you think they would have me running some bootleg music and games for them? Selling product to pimply-faced adolescents?”
I thought about that for a moment. It was true, what he said, the Vitellos had been busted a long time. That meant… “Ramos Family.” I murmured.
Slice nodded. “Glad to see you’re not senile at least.”
“What’d they have on you?”
“Are you my priest now? You gonna hear my confession? What they had was bad enough, way bad, but they are ‘why’ I did what I did.”
“Mister Three Piece, Dog and…me?”
“Mister Three Piece?” Slice chuckled, “Yeah, unknown talent. I don’t even know his name, they said ‘Go here. Kill who you find there.’ I went there. I killed who I found. They warned me he was a shiner, a tough one too, so I shouldn’t mess around. It was a test really. A test for me and a test of the darkness.”
“They got you on the ‘D’?” Darkness was a much-rumored drug that suppressed the shine. No one could confirm it actually existed, but everyone speculated that the government was developing it to help deal with the criminals in the judicial system. Many thought it would be a violation of human rights to use it, but as it didn’t officially exist the court battles hadn’t started yet.
“They got me on something. I had to agree to it before they granted parole. You should see the paperwork I had to sign. Non-disclosure this, legal liability that. Doesn’t matter much now, does it?”
“It didn’t work?”
“It did. At first, I started it six weeks ago, at first, I was sick all the time, puking and pissing myself, too damned ill to summon a cut. That made people happy, and they slowly tapered down my meds until I was just nauseous. Then one night I had a dream, a good dream, Compass. I was flying. Outside, under the moon, free! It was so wonderful I didn’t want to wake up, but here’s the tricky thing – I wasn’t asleep.”
“The Ramos’s sprung you?”
He shook his head, “No. I sprang myself.”
“You? You’re the teleporter?”
“No, I got to shine a little brighter, I just faded out and passed through the walls.”
I was stunned; I rocked back in my chair. “You…you…changed? But that’s not possible!” The shine when it hit, was a one-time affair, it left you with gifts, and you figured them out. As far as anyone knew, you never gained any more.
“Yeah. Like I said, I got better. Well the family has the prison system locked up pretty tight, they were already working on me before my release, and I’d reached a deal with them. I got stupid again. I should have pointed myself east and just kept on flying, but what did I do? I decided to head back to the pen and wait out my parole. I got back to find Andy Baca standing by my empty bed with a breakfast tray. Fucking Baca! He’s a no one, a snitch, practically…and worse, belongs to the family. He kept his mouth shut to the authorities and told the family what he saw. They renegotiated my terms with me, saying that I had the perfect alibi to commit murder and they moved up their schedule.”
“I overheard them talking. I learned Spanish; it turns out it’s a pretty useful skill to have. So yeah, they moved up their plans. They wanted me to go after Flying Hawk, then that changed, they didn’t tell me why, they just sent me to Cotta Terrace. Funny how quick things change, ain’t it, Compass? When I left the world, Cotta Terrace was a nice part of town. Now it’s full of junkies and squatters. Not all change is progress I guess.”
“The whole place is run down, Slice.” We stayed there for a moment, each reflecting on the world as it is before I finally shook my head and said, “No. I don’t believe you.”
“You can ghost out and fly, or so you say. But there're two things wrong with that story, at least. First, how’d Dog shoot you? Bullets pass right through ghosts, as far as I know anyway. And second you broke into my office, you didn’t just walk through the door.”
Slice grinned, “So you don’t believe me?”
He lay back and closed his eyes tightly and then he slowly sunk through my couch, through the floor and into the offices below. I heard screaming, and Slice hastily reappeared, with a startled look on his face. “Shit.” He mouthed, but I didn’t hear the word, I only saw his lips move. He oriented himself above the couch again and faded back into reality, where he fell with a whoosh onto the old leather.
“Didn’t know the office below you was occupied.” he said.
“Me either.” I was surprised, what had happened to him was nothing short of a miracle. “They’ll call the cops.” He gave me a quick shrug, winced and coughed up a little blood, which he spat onto my floor. I looked around for my trash can and handed it to him, someone was going to have to clean his blood up, and I was betting it would be me. “You got plenty of time to finish explaining, and it’s not like they will be able to take you in anyway, not unless you want them to.”
“I’m a wanted man, it’ll take less time than you think.”
“Then you better get on with it. How’d you get shot and why is my door busted?”
“I can’t cut when I’m ghosting; it just passes right through people. Well, you know, without hurting them. I wanted to talk to Dog, ask him a couple of questions and try to confirm what I learned about the family. He brought his piece up like liquid lightning, he must have had more shine than I was told, or he hid it, hell for all I know he visited Andro and got ‘tutored.' Still, the blade is faster than an arm, and his went missing. But the tough mother fucker rolled onto his arm off of the bed, and I lost sight of him.” Slice had to see what he was cutting; he couldn’t kill someone from a thousand klicks away. A hundred yards, sure, five hundred, maybe, but if you were standing in a closet with a curtain between you and him, you were perfectly safe. Until he cut the curtain down.
Slice coughed again and continued, “I hopped up on the bed to get him back in visual, but God damned if he didn’t have the piece in his left hand, that’s when he winged me. He knew he was going to die, knew it, so he had to take me out first. And he was right, Compass, he was right. I was going to kill him either way. Even after I got his other arm off and picked myself up off the floor, he was right. I knew he’d killed me. He knew it, but he still gave me nothing. I even threatened to wait and gut his family as they arrived back home. He told me to go fuck myself.”
“I kinda liked Dog.”
“I’m sorry.” Slice sounded sincere, “So, I came looking for you. I had your address from online, but you didn’t come home, so I figured you were crashing with some dame. I know you though, and I had your office address too. I knew you’d come here eventually.”
Lights were flashing on the Venetian blinds of my office from outside. I stood up and peered through them, two squad cars pulled up to the building. No sirens, just the flashing lights. Slice gave me a look that said ‘I told you so,' “Alright, I’ll allow that you were right about the police.” I continued to watch the cars outside, a uniformed man from each vehicle rushed to the side of the street where a crying woman gestured frantically at the building pointing up in my direction. The officers radioed it in, and it looked like they were telling people to get out of the building. “Looks like they are evacuating the place. Probably awaiting the SCaCU.” SCaCU stood for ‘Shiner Containment and Capture Unit’; essentially a SWAT unit for Shiners.
“Huh, well, that’s no small homage, is it?”
“Are you going to go out with a fight?”
“I’m not going back and with my insides all messed up, I doubt I’d live long enough anyway. Plus, you know the pigs, once I get into custody I’d probably die ‘trying to escape’ anyway. I had bacon for breakfast; I know the score and so do they. As for your fucking door, well, Compass didn’t you ever forget your shine? Especially when it was new on you?”
I nodded, he could be telling the truth; he wasn’t the smartest guy I knew.
“You know, something funny was happening to me too. It felt like I was slipping away when I ghosted, it wasn’t so bad just now, but earlier I’d come all the way over from your place on Vallejo...” Slice paused for a moment, “You know what I said earlier? About you moving up in the world?”
“I take it back; your place is a shit hole. Anyway, I ghosted over from there, which is why there wasn’t much blood in the hallway. Your girl, what’s her name?”
“You love her?”
“She love you?”
“Sucker. Dump the dame and find yourself a new one.”
“So you’re not going to kill me then?” I finished off my whiskey, and he held up the bottle questionably, I nodded, and he poured me another slug.
“That still depends.”
“On what? We might not have much time here before you have to go.”
“I’m not going anywhere. I need you to find something for me.”
Slice. Compass. He knew. Of course, he knew! I had told him back when we were barely more than kids, and he was always making cheesy deals with me, like ‘Find me the next winning lottery ticket and I’ll give you half.’ Or ‘Where can we go to get laid tonight for free? Point it out, and I’ll give you this gum wrapper.’ It never worked out well though; we’d get the lottery ticket, scratch it off and found we had won a dollar. We never found a clerk willing to sell us the 8th or 10th ticket down the roll, they always suspected. Getting laid for free might mean a 50-year-old woman sitting on a barstool with loose morals and an itch to scratch or, on one notable occasion, a partner in a gay bar willing to take us both on.
I nodded, “I won’t do it for a gum wrapper, Slice.”
“I have something far more valuable to trade.”
I felt an invisible blade at my throat. It felt like he had actually cut me and a moment later I was sure of it. A trickle of blood dribbled down my neck.
“Huh, I never thought I would feel a blade, I always thought it would just be pain.”
“You thought about me cutting you?”
“We didn’t leave on good terms.”
“Water under the bridge. I have a contract out on your life. I will give it up, renege on my deal in exchange for you finding me something. What’s your life worth?”
“Honestly, on the open market, I don’t know; a lot to me, not much to you.”
“Not true, my friend, my only friend. You are my knife, you are my sword, you are my vengeance. You will not fail me, you’re the only one in my life who never has; I figured that out while I was inside. I was making your life worse; you were trying to make mine better. I was so stupid. You were lucky you didn’t end up in there with me.”
“I think I can take your deal.” I said, maybe it was his sentimental outburst, but I suddenly felt that my life was worth quite a lot. The more I get paid, the better I function. Even discounting anything else, I was worth 120 thousand dollars right now, which should make his search pretty strong.
“Shake on it?”
“I don’t need to, but I think I’d like that, yeah.” We shook hands, and the deal was sealed.
He raised a bloody hand to my neck where he had drawn blood. “Sorry, I’m losing it, got a little shaky there, I guess. Nothing worse than you get from shaving; you’ll live.”
I heard a heavy diesel engine prowl up to the building on the street below. I didn’t dare look out the window now, but Slice already knew SCaCU had arrived. “You better tell me what I’m looking for.”
“I’m trying to figure out how to say it.”
“You can’t twist this. I know you know that, but don’t try for a twosy or something philosophical, like ‘happiness’”
“I know how it worked. Works. Gimme a second.”
I waited patiently, convinced that he already had the question and was just stalling.
“Get your gun.”
“Slice, holding a gun is a bad thing to do when SCaCU is around. In fact, the only really safe place for me is on my belly on the floor.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll handle them.”
“They can’t hurt you.” I muttered as I collected my gun.
I holstered it, but he shook his head. “Hold it. On me.”
“Like you captured me. Just do it.”
The door at the end of the hallway was slammed open, and we heard them coming at a trot towards my office door.
Slice looked at me for a moment just before they burst in and said, “Find the children, Compass. Find out what the Ramos Family is doing with the children.”
SCaCU burst in, leading with a flash grenade. I hadn’t expected that and missed the rapid exchange that followed. Apparently, Slice had been expecting such a tactic, the film of the last few seconds of his life from the helmet cams the officers were wearing showed him lifting one arm off of his eyes and gesturing frantically as he was shot. Officially he was killed for resisting arrest. But not before he had time to cut off my gun arm, both my legs below the knee and decapitate the first two SCACU team members through the door. I had been right earlier; I didn’t feel the knife, all I felt was pain.