The Problem 3

June 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

In a grubby dive bar near the harbor, smelling of the quahoggers who often stopped there for a beer on their way home, Baldassare Mastrini (his friends had called him Baldy all of his life, and now that he was in his fifties and still not bald, it seemed to irritate them as much as it had him, once) watched things he had never wanted to see unfold. It had all begun if not normally than at least in a manner he could understand. His employer asked him to find someone difficult to find. That was what Baldy did.

A horrible smell of burning flesh and synthetic fabric washed over him from his seat. He’d been unwilling to try and stand before, when the four of them grinned and capered and even killed with insulting casualness. That was before burning death walked in. Now nothing could have moved Baldy an inch, his hands curled into fists, his every joint white. Even for someone like him, who had spent years skirting the difference between legal and illegal, probable and improbable, this was out and out insanity.

He had contacts in various places who knew about the rat people, of course. You couldn’t work for the largest city in Rhode Island without knowing about all sorts of things people didn’t want to know about. Rat people were like bodies turning up in poured foundations or people committing suicide by shooting themselves in the head and then chaining themselves up and throwing themselves in the bay.

Still, it was rare to hear of an outside contractor, not city, not state, not in a family who could deal with them, and much less do so by himself against a group. Usually you heard of a couple of trucks full of people who usually worked for a vending machine company going out at night and a few of them not coming back, not one man killing a dozen or so with his bare hands.

Baldy believed it now, of course, as the flaming remains of the pallid woman who’d held his throat with one delicate finger pressing deceptively deep into his flesh flew into the wall, screaming. He’d never heard a scream like it, loud and keening and not stopping until the flames burned away her throat.

Normally they were so reasonable. Bring them some offerings – money, blood, maybe even someone from a halfway house no one would miss who was out on parole – and they were quite cooperative. The drive to Barrington and the converted old bar where Baldy had dealt with a few of them before has been uneventful, the discussion with Misha as bland and full of doubletalk as always. Then Baldy had told them who he was looking for, as best he could considering Jimmy Palmetti didn’t even know the guy’s name. It was that detail that set them off, Baldy thought. Guy he couldn’t name, big, hairy, living somewhere in the east bay. They didn’t go nuts, exactly, and at first he hadn’t even noticed it. Until they went sibilant on him, advancing from all sides, and told him sure, yes, we can find him for you. We just need to go to Bristol. Well, we may need to get him to come to us.

He’d been uneasy then. When they took him to a bar he’d neither have avoided nor gone to of his own accord, he’d mostly been confused as to how it was going to get him what he wanted.

When they started killing people right in front of him and let him know in no uncertain terms that if he moved he’d be one of them, he realized they weren’t being reasonable this time.

And now that they were dying he was caught between relief and terror.

Two of them were dead, and the third and fourth were both attacking him at once, moving so much faster than Baldy could even see. It didn’t matter. When they hit him the black claws they had instead of fingers came away seething, smouldering, and although lines opened up on his crimson flesh flames danced in the rents and oozed from him. He’d grown when he first walked in, and now he was a monster. A giant, red skinned, flame haired, shimmering with heat distortion. He smashed a hand down, and as the sinuous pallid body leapt away from him that hand kept going until it splintered what had been an old pilot’s wheel with a glass top over it. The glass actually melted and the wood started to smoke. The whole room smelled of burning wood and lacquer.

Her braided black hair actually snapped like a whip as she rushed in on him again, and then even as they both tore at his chest and side, Baldy realized how much faster the fire monster could move. Like fire itself he blurred the air and his hand caught and twisted that braid. It burned, but not fast enough to break before she was twisting in the air itself and came down on the bar next to the dead barkeep, crashing so hard into the wood that Baldy could hear ribs and possibly even her spine snapping.

She didn’t even get to scream before a burning piece of that shattered wheel was jutting out of her chest, driven through her heart with such force that it pinned her to the bar. Her face was all sharp angles lit from the burning wood in her chest. She looked like she’d been planed from a single piece of white wood before she began to rot and fester.

Now there was only the one Baldy knew as Sime, the one who always dressed in full black and covered even his or her head with a variety of large hats or hoods. It had backed to the door during the fight. Baldy had no idea why it hadn’t already run away. He knew he would have.

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