Whimsy Wednesday: The Faithful (Excerpt)

Particles of water hung suspended in the light from the pink neon Key Note Club letters, like dust swirling in an attic. Raine approached the building from the west, but in this mist, the sign called to him like a beacon despite the other bars that surrounded it. He was just around the corner from The Deserted Temple, but even though it still had three days, it's lights were out. Perhaps the barkeep had taken his advice after all.

He paused outside, leaning against the adjacent building. A somber tone, muted by the door, wafted out into the gloomy air. A line spread around the building, filled with all the trendy people dressed in their best suits. After checking the time, Raine slipped into the crowd, cut past to the front door. He entered with a nod to the bouncer.

A jazz quartet onstage was in the midst of transitioning to its next song, something upbeat, dangerous. Smoke curled in the air, hanging just a little too long, clinging to the hunter green walls. Oki's vein left everyone looking a bit blue.

Curved lamps spilled golden light. He scanned the crowd, ignoring the raucous laughter and conversation. Jaiden and Turrell would reveal themselves soon enough. From the file, they would threw money at anyone who would pay attention. A shrill laugh cut through his concentration. In a plunging cocktail dress, a blonde fell all over two guys, their facades all glamour and glitz, calculated.

He’d found his mark.

Raine crossed the room with a swagger, tilting his Lundberg Stetson down ever so slightly to shadow his features. He’d made this walk a hundred times. His perfected grin spread across his face and he opened his arms with a laugh and said, “Boys, let me buy ya a drink.”

The girl eyed him, but neither man turned.

Raine, rebuffed but determined, waved a young bartender down. Leaning against a table, he yelled over the band, “Four whiskeys for my friends here.” He clapped a hand on Jaiden’s shoulder.

Jaiden tensed without turning. His auburn hair highlighted his bone structure, high cheekbones, hard jaw. His finger tapped the ash away from a cigarette into a jeweled tray. “Sorry, friend. Whiskey ain't my drink."

“Great, more for me then.” Raine slid the hand off, his laughter slipping a shade nervous. He forced the act forward, but felt every slight twitch from the two boys. He sidled against the bar, rubbing up against the eager blonde as he did so. She squirmed away with revulsion, and he bit back a smile.

She stepped back, faltering in her high heels. “Who is this jerk?”

The bartender laid out a fresh wave of whiskey, one for each. Before anyone could say a world, Raine scooped up Jaiden's serving. He savored the burn, the sudden loss of clarity. He heard the words, “Sam, clear this riffraff out.” Raine stared into the barkeep's nervous eyes, didn't bother shaking his head. Sam turned his back on the group, answering another order.

“Lousy piece of shit,” Jaiden muttered.

Raine snorted. He picked up the shot glass, inspected it in the light. Lifting it with a slight nod, he said, “Drink up kids. This stuff doesn't come cheap.” He raised the glass to his lips.

A palm shot out, striking it from his hand, shattering it against the bar. No one seemed to notice. Raine shifted, staring up at Turrell. The brute's brown hair curled across his forehead as he glowered down at Raine. “He asked you to move on.”

“Oh, come on, we're all friends here. You know me. I know you've been ripping off my family for quite some time now.” Raine went to stand, but Turrell placed a stiff hand on his shoulder, forcing him to stay seated. Raine grimaced, turned a cold eye to their companion. “Run on home, doll. These men will leave you damaged.” He tossed a few bills her way. “Believe me, they can't pay you enough to replace the teeth.”

The girl didn't go for the money, only retreated. Her hand moved to the multitude of necklaces, clutched them tight. “What's he talking about Jaiden?”

Rather than coax her back, Jaiden seized her wrist, his face a mask of casualness. He pulled her in close and Raine had to strain to hear him. “You're going to stay right here. Don't move a fucking inch.”

Her eyes grew large and childlike. A pang of remorse struck Raine, but he shoved it down. Her doe-like gaze flicked to him, back to Jaiden, but she did not run. She stood there, clutching her necklace like a ward against abuse, but he knew she'd let it happen.

Raine waved for another drink, but the barkeep ignored him. Raine shook his head, put his fingers on Turrell and nudged him away. His other hand worked across the bar and closed around the shattered base of the shot glass. “I get it, you're big and mean. Just step back. I really don't need to smell that shit on your breath.”

Turrell planted his hand on the wood as he leaned in, allowing Raine to fully inspect every flaw in his wretched face. His features had been rearranged multiple times and looked all the better for it, although his ragged beard helped hide this from a distance. He smiled, a toothy grin of shattered teeth, and let out a deep breath, wafting over Raine like broth bubbling from a cauldron. “Take a big whiff.”

Raine made a big production of it all, resting his side against the bar, arching his back. Not bad actually, a familiar mixture of hard liquor and tobacco. His breath probably smelled similar at this point in the night. Raine turned away through, looking past the bar.

“You should really go see a doctor, Turrell.”

“Why's that?”

Raine drove the glass into the middle of Turrell's hand, twisted.

The room fell silent as his scream hit the air.

Raine pivoted back, planting his foot on Turrell's chest and shoving with all his might. Turrell's hand shredded as the glass ripped through the flesh. He struck the floor.

Jaiden swung left; Raine raised his arm, deflected the blow. He pressed forward as Jaiden attacked again. Raine ducked under, throwing his whole weight into the lunge. Jaiden slipped past as Raine toppled over Turrell's body.

Raine hit the ground, scrambling to his feet, rebounding off a table. He spun on his heel, avoided Jaiden's fist, returned with one of his own. It contacted with flesh. Jaiden crumpled.

As the heat bled out of him, Raine turned from the carnage. He inspected the ripped wounds across his knuckles. Slumping against the bar, he took a cloth napkin and draped it over the flesh and remnants of shattered glass. He motioned for Sam to come over and got a curt nod.

“Quite a row you had there," a voice said next to him.

Raine turned with a victorious grin that turned sour. A man dressed in a sharp suit sat next to him, taking in all the details, a smile seated on his thin lips. Raine didn't like his smile. It stretched far too long, curved at the edges a little too high. He found the humor lacking. “I've seen worse,” Raine said, breathless.

“I bet.” The stranger's orange eyes glinted in the light, almost seemed to flash. He brushed back his white hair, then his finger flicked the air, pointed behind him.

A familiar mixture of alcohol and tobacco wafted over him.

Caught in the motion and unable to stop himself, Raine followed the gesture. He turned to see Turrell towering over him. His fist struck Raine's face.

*

Water.

As Raine opened his eyes, he felt it creeping in.

The Easy Speak by Zachary D. Bradley

The Easy Speak by Zachary D. Bradley

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Justin D. Herd

Justin D. Herd is a purveyor of the weird and strange. He occasionally squawks at friends and family, but does so only under the cover of night. Okay, that's not true. He squawks in full daylight. Drinking games have been built around his peculiarities, but the truth of it is this: he is a loving husband, with two wonderful dem--children. One growls at things he likes, including pretty women. The other has started to learn hand-eye coordination. Neither had made it to the tender age of three. From there, things will only get more interesting. He spends most of his writing time either at a coffee shop or sitting at one of his many desks around his house. Any other place makes it nearly impossible for him to write. He uses horror movies and rock music to help get the juices flowing. His favorite authors are Jeremy Robert Johnson, Alan Campbell, Terry Pratchett, Justin Cronin, and Patrick Rothfuss. He consumes most of his books through audiobooks, but still loves his personal library and getting lost in the printed word.