Raine Morgan pulled a crushed pack from his jacket, fished out a twisted cigarette. A match’s flame flickered. He took a drag, stared at the seedy bars from his niche across the street. Neon flashed through the evening haze, calling the shuffling drunks out into the dead of night for some faintly promised tail.
The chill air reeked of rotting fish and seaweed. In the distance, a bell dinged, signaling choppy waters. He shifted position, regretted it when the glow from one of Oki’s Veins in the wall beside him blinded his night vision. Pain thrummed under his right eye. He planted his arm to cover the thick pane of glass, obscuring the bright blue light. Grasping his watch chain, Raine checked the time, shoved the piece back into his vest pocket.
Raine flicked his cigarette into a mound of trash and sauntered toward the Key Note Club. Particles of water swirled like dust in the pink light from its neon letters and muted jazz wafted out into the gloomy air. A line spread around the building, filled with all the trendy people dressed in their best suits. Raine cut through it to the front door. He entered with a nod to the doorman, causing a murmur to spring up behind him. The bouncer silenced it with a hard look.
A jazz quartet onstage transitioned to its next song, something frenetic, dangerous. Smoke curled in the air, clinging to the hunter green walls. Oki’s Veins stretched into the room, resembling the branches of a dying tree, leaving everyone looking a bit blue. Water coursed inside the veins, glass-covered canals that swept down streets, across alleys, along walls. No building was left untouched by the veins of the long dead water goddess. Their intricate designs served as a reminder that she was always there. To most though, their purpose had faded with time. Their backlit reach had become a mere aesthetic choice, another thing to draw tourists to the port of Sandhyanen. No one knew what the veins represented anymore.
Except for Keir Cuilthinn and those that followed him.
Raine leaned against the bar, scoping the scene. He scanned the crowd, ignoring raucous laughter and conversation. His targets would reveal themselves soon enough. According to the file, Jaiden and Turrell threw money at anyone who would pay attention.
“Why don’t you let my friend T buy you a drink?”
“I said, fuck off.” A young woman, dressed in a dark gray suit, stood cornered at her table by two guys, their demeanor all glamour and glitz. The bigger one’s smile turned vicious as he toyed with her hat. She recoiled from the touch, revealing choppy brown hair.
Raine focused on the scene as it unfolded, he flashed back to the blurry photos, the photos of battered women after their run-ins with this duo. He tried to suppress his anger, to settle himself. He needed to be a professional, protect the woman. He crossed the room, tilting his flat cap down 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. “Boys, let me buy ya a drink.”
The girl eyed him, but neither man turned.
Raine waved a young waiter 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. The cut of 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 dropped his hand, felt every slight twitch from these hooligans. He slipped in between the girl and Turrell, glanced at her. Rather than relief, he read fury in her eyes. He leaned into the table with his back against it.
The waiter laid out a fresh wave of whiskey, one for each. Before anyone could say a world, Raine scooped one, savored the burn, the sudden loss of clarity. He heard Jaiden say, “Sam, clear this riffraff out.” Raine stared into the waiter’s nervous face, didn’t bother shaking his head. Sam turned his back on the group, moving to another table.
“Lousy piece of shit,” Jaiden said.
Raine snorted. He picked up another 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 it to his lips.
A palm shot out, striking it from his hand, shattering it against the table. No one noticed. Raine stared at Turrell. The brute glowered down at Raine. “He asked you to move on.”
“We’re all friends here. You know me. And I know you’ve been ripping off my family for some time now.” Raine went to stand, but Turrell placed a stiff hand on his shoulder. Raine grimaced, turned a cold eye to the woman. “Run on home. These men will leave you damaged.”
She grabbed a deteriorating satchel stowed at the base of the table and stepped away. 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.”
The rage she’d directed at Raine seemed quaint once he saw her stiffen. He noticed the subtle movement of her arm as she searched in her pants for some hidden object. Raine recognized her intention and made a show of waving for another drink. The waiter ignored him, but his distraction had allowed him to close around the shattered base of the shot glass. “Look, T, 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 table 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. His ragged beard helped hide this from a distance. He smiled, a 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 inhaling deeply. Not bad actually, a familiar mixture of hard liquor and tobacco. His breath probably smelled similar at this point in the night. “You should really go see a doctor, Turrell.”
Raine drove the glass into 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 hit the floor.
Jaiden swung with his left; Raine raised his arm, deflected the blow. He pressed forward as Jaiden attacked again. Raine ducked under, throwing his whole weight into Jaiden’s body. Jaiden slipped past as Raine toppled over Turrell. A whimper accompanied the contact as Turrell cradled his hand.
Raine hit the ground, scrambled to his feet, rebounded off a table. He spun on his heel, avoided Jaiden’s fist, returned with one of his own. It connected with his jaw. Jaiden crumpled. Raine crossed to Turrell on the floor, slammed his foot into Turrell’s jaw. Turrell’s head flopped to the side as he collapsed.
As the heat bled out of him, Raine turned from the carnage. He searched for the young woman, but she was gone. Slumping against the bar, all of his joints ached in unison. He inspected the ripped wounds across his knuckles, then draped a cloth napkin over the flesh and remnants of shattered glass. He motioned for Sam and got a curt nod.
“Quite a row you had there,” a voice said beside him.
Raine’s victorious grin soured. 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.
“I bet.” The stranger’s orange eyes glinted, almost seemed to flash. He brushed back his white hair, then flicked his finger, pointed behind him.
Raine followed the gesture. A familiar mixture of alcohol and tobacco wafted past. He recognized Turrell.
His fist struck Raine’s face.
As Raine opened his eyes, he felt it creeping in.