Authors: Nick Kelly
Cat shook his head for missing it at first glance. The stage performer had undergone cosmetic surgery and now permanently bore the smile and mask of a children’s party clown. Not just any clown, Cat noted, but Pogo the Clown, the character behind which the 1970’s serial killer John Wayne Gacy hid. Gacy was famous for sexually assaulting and killing 27 people. Cat wondered what twisted phreak would elect to wear that face for the rest of his life. He wondered how many skeletons Pogo had in his closet. The other band members also donned the faces of serial killers. Gary Ridgeway, the Green River Killer, smashed the drums. Aileen Wuornos played bass. Dennis Rader, aka BTK, whipped out a guitar solo.
As the Gacy clone howled and writhed through his set, rolling on the plexiglass and neon stage that protruded above the bodies below, bartenders on each side doled out fluorescent drinks to a buzzing crowd, bees to the alcoholic hive. Each floor had two bars, one each to stage right and stage left, and each had a swarm several victims deep waiting for the next round. The VIP area on the third floor was the least crowded. It was designed for security and sound-dampening to promote business networking. Things inside The Block were just as in Nitro City, rising above was as literal a term as it was figurative.
Cat downed two doubles of synth-vodka and burned through two smokes while he took a mental inventory. He was thankful for his cybernetic eyes every time he scanned the swarm of bodies writhing beneath the strobe lights. The band continued its torrent of blistering guitars and pounding drums, with Pogo half-screaming, half-squealing above it all. If Sodom had a soundtrack, it may very well be performed by the clown and his supporting cast.
He hadn’t ventured upstairs yet, but the first two floors met his every expectation. A small portion of him was bummed he didn’t suddenly find Delilah’s radiant figure attempting to hide among the crowd. With no luck in the out-of-place supermodel category, he moved to the next portion of his mental checklist. Midas was somewhere in the complex, and if his resources were worth the cost of a can of cheap spray paint, the pimp would know by now that Cat had come to visit.
It took zero effort to gain access to the third floor. When Cat told the giant-framed bouncer that there was a couple performing all-out sodomy in the stairwell (and that the female half of the couple had 38 DD’s), the bouncer gave him a cursory warning before moving past him to investigate. The fact that there really was a couple performing was icing on the cake. He might have exaggerated about the girl’s artificial breasts, but not by much. Cat strolled past the bouncer’s evacuated seat, moving to mingle with the well-to-do crowd on the top floor.
His new armor was hardly visible. The metallic plating of his legs could easily be mistaken for the modern, fashionable Kevlar-mesh combinations. By removing the padding planted in the motorcycle jacket, he’d created room for the armor. His straight, black hair was pulled into a tight ponytail, and he wore square black shades in front of his softly glowing yellow Cyberoptics. The cigarette between his lips and the glass in his hand gave the impression that his goal was to enjoy the night for what it was.
Had the Pogo look-alike fronting the band taken a few more vocal lessons, Cat might be willing to forego business tonight and relax. The superhuman tap on his shoulder squelched that line of dreaming. Glancing back, the cleaner saw the familiar form of the bouncer blocking out most of the light of the room.
“Your presence has been requested,” the bouncer stated with a metallic timber to his voice. Stepping aside, the enormous security guard pointed to a pair of double doors. The doors, frame, and hardware were made of solid gold. An inverted eye of the Egyptian god, Ra, was engraved in each door. Cat smirked. The Golden King showed no humility, and no weakness, in revealing his presence.
Catwalk stepped inside the lair behind the doors. Furnishings of scarlet velvet covered leather furniture around the room. A plush red carpet draped its way to the far end of the room. Along the walls, figures mingled in whispers and moans in the shadows. He heard dozens of voices, each seemingly driven by pleasure and oblivious to his presence. He shifted his view across the room, to a series of adjoined couches.
A figure sat in the center, clad in a top-dollar suit, complete with a few very friendly ladies as garnish. The silhouette rested a golden chalice on the table top, raising his view to meet Cat’s. The Golden King’s gaze met the hitman. He wouldn’t need to find Midas after all.
Midas had found him.
Midas said something and the escort to his right scattered like a cockroach. The pimp waved a shimmering hand at Catwalk, beckoning to the plush, empty seat by his side. “Care for a drink?”
He took a few, slow strides forward, eyeing the shadows to both sides. He stepped closer, but he stopped before outright accepting the offer to join the festivities.
Midas studied him for a long moment before addressing him. “My invitation surprises you, cleaner?”
“Not as much as the fact I’m still breathin’, but, yeah, a bit.”
The glimmer of his golden skin made Midas’ emotions harder to read, but from Cat’s best guess, the pimp had rehearsed this speech and its every potential direction ad nauseam. Still, Midas was known to lose his metallic cool from time to time if things didn’t go as he’d planned them. Maybe he was just going to hand Cat a bill for the Sirens, and then, try to kill him.
“Your sense of humor is well-known in the industry.” Midas took a slow drink from his golden goblet. The small area around them was a mix of faint smoke and unending music. The women surrounding Midas were oblivious to their conversation, ebbing and flowing around the pimp. Their liquid movements made Midas seem even more like a living statue than testimonies Cat had reviewed.
Midas’ gaze remained unchanged for several long, quiet moments. Cat took a drink and a drag on his cigarette. He stole a quick look around the place, confirming as many targets as possible. With the security of his new armor, and the increased draw speed of his holsters, he could still get the drop on the bouncers and the pimp. He eyed Midas, wondering what the hell would make a man try to appear solid gold. At least he wasn’t trying to be a human shocking clown. Midas was either greedier than a career politician or insane. Insanity didn’t usually come with such business acumen, so Cat was willing to bet on the former. His speculation was interrupted when Midas spoke again. “Tell me about Hitch.”
Cat grinned, “Bad skin, yellow teeth, below-average height, unmistakable limp, ugly as a burn victim. He liked to fuck dead kids, coz then he had a fightin’ chance against ‘em.” Cat surprised himself with the inflection of his words. He hadn’t intended the edge that he revealed, but Hitch’s behavior struck something inside of him. Him, he’d killed people for a ride home in his past.
Midas nodded. “So, this was some sort of street justice for you, cleaner? You took it upon yourself to erase a vermin that hunted the streets of Downtown Nitro City suddenly? That does not fit the profile I’ve got on you. You’re better than some petty foray into heroism. You’re a killer. You make people disappear for a paycheck. Why so different with Hitch? What made it personal? Did he remind you of your childhood? You don’t strike me as altar boy material.”
Cat chuckled at the pimp’s attempt to strike a chord. “Oh, my feelin’s don’t even enter into it. You said it yourself. I offed him coz I got a nice sum a’ money ta do exactly that.” Cat sipped his drink. “The fact that he was a bottom-feedin’ skinbag did provide a little personal satisfaction.”
Midas’ face remained unchanged. “Who paid you?”
“You don’t really think I’m gonna tell you.”
“If you don’t, you’re a dead man.”
“If I do, I’m worse than dead.”
Midas stopped and stared. He took another long drink from his goblet then set it on the ornate table. Crossing one leg over the other, he leaned back in his chair. “Why do you think you’re here, Catwalk?”
Cat drained his glass. “Near as I figure, it’s one a’ two things. Either yer the kinda guy who just has ta see someone face ta face and kill ‘em yourself, or yer willin’ ta double my check ta off the guy who hired me ta kill Hitch.”
Midas leaned forward. His stare pulled Catwalk inward like a magnet. After a brief a pause, the pimp stood, brushing away his female slaves like lint on his collar. He picked up the golden cane that rested against the chair and looked down at Cat.
The stare down between them lasted forever, yet only a breath. Midas finally turned his gaze to his side and nodded. Two figures stepped from the darkness behind Catwalk. Cat reached for his weapons, but the men didn’t attack. Instead, they lifted the corners of the long, scarlet rug that led from the door. They began to roll it up. He had to step aside as they neared Midas. He caught the scent of the liquid on the floor even before he saw it on the underside of the carpet.
The men reached the space in front of Midas, lifting the carpet on their shoulders and disappearing into the darkness to his left. Cat scanned the floor. A drain was set squarely in the center of the room. Traces of blood, some old, some recent, colored the stones. He lifted his gaze to Midas, who beckoned from his right. One of the guards tossed another something off of his shoulder on to the cold stone floor. Cat caught the form. It wasn’t something. It was someone.
A yelp of terror left the person dumped on to the floor. Cat clenched his teeth. The body on the floor was frail and pale. Scabs covered the ankles and wrists. It curled in the fetal position, facing Midas. Cat fingers clenched into fists. He gritted his teeth. Words couldn’t find the way through the rage running through his muscles.
The Golden King made his way down to the body on the floor. “Now, now. Let’s not be ungrateful hosts. Say hello to our guest of honor, won’t you?” He struck the hobbled figure with his cane. A wordless moan left his victim. Midas sneered. “What’s wrong?” he shouted, kicking the figure hard enough that it rolled over, “Cat got your tongue?”
The victim’s head bounced off the concrete floor, in and out of the light. Cat froze. Ice seized his fingers, crept along his arms and paralyzed everything he still considered human. As soon as he saw the young man’s face, he halted. His heart seized in his chest.
The boy’s eyes and mouth were sewn shut. Scars covered his arms and legs. His fingers were broken in unnatural angles. He whimpered against the damp floor.
Cat staggered forward. The room disappeared.
An eternity passed before Midas’ voice registered in his head. “Join me for a walk, cleaner. I have a proposition I believe will interest you.”
Somewhere below, Pogo’s band broke into a new song, screaming about “The Best It’s Gonna Get”, accompanied by pulsing electronic drums and strobe lights that matched the rise in rhythm and adrenaline. The crowd shouted. Apparently, this was a fan favorite.
Midas led the way onto a walkway out of the club, with Cat a few steps behind. The hitman wasn’t stupid. He was aware of the multiple sets of eyes, and probably a few laser scopes, on him the entire time. He hadn’t quite figured out what the fixer had up his shiny golden sleeve. Delambre would offer some ‘I told you so’ to his daughter once they realized Cat had confronted Midas and wound up with his organs sporting a few dozen holes. He concentrated on breathing. His human muscles were tight, almost to the point of seizure. If he couldn’t flex, his body was useless.
Spotlights and occasional fireworks erupted above the factories. The disharmony of crowds hollering and the cacophony of multiple bands and DJ’s all met outside the confines of the industrial buildings. It sounded like a full-throttle orgy in Hell. The wind somehow managed to bite at the fog of guilt that numbed his senses. Words began to make sense. The reality around him became less like the nightmare that surrounded him.
Even through the half-dozen audio sources, Cat could identify one in particular. One of the DJ’s was spinning the new cover of “I’m Too Sexy” by Bootie and the Holefish. He rolled his eyes. There was a line in the song about “doing a little dance on the catwalk” that drove him insane every time he heard it. Maybe Midas would excuse him for a few moments just to torture and maim the idiots enjoying that particular song.
“So, here we are,” Midas stated from the center of one of the walkways, bringing Cat back to the matter at metallic hand. Midas gestured around him, against the wind, standing midpoint between two of the gigantic structures. Cat switched on his recorder, feeding the view from his Cyberoptics to a storage bank on the H-S and replicated back to the lab. If the snipers were going to blow him to bits, the least he could do was have evidence. NCPD would never bother to investigate, but maybe he had a crazed fan who would attempt vengeance in his name.
Cat gazed around, noting the faint lights from the buildings, the debris floating by on the wind and the spotlights disappearing into the heavens. “So, here’s where you retire me an’ further yer good name?”
“On the contrary, cleaner, I have no desire to let you die, now or for as long as I can imagine.”
“So, why exactly are we here?” Cat wanted to feign ignorance, but Midas’ last statement made everything agonizingly clear.
Midas’ grin provided enough of an answer. “You left a void in my organization by murdering my assistant, Catwalk. That’s a void I need filled.”
“Goddamnit…” Cat muttered under his breath.
“You eliminated my Renfield, cleaner. You left a void in my organization, and in doing so, proven yourself worthy of that post. You have a very specialized skill set. Clearly, what you have to offer is different from what Hitch brought to my organization. I’m intrigued at the opportunity available here. Let’s say I want to evolve from the mangy old cur I could kick to a panther I could unleash on my competition.” Midas gazed intently, as if he could force his power and sphere of influence on Cat with a single thought. “I brought you here to hire you.”