BY JEREMY RIDDLE
About the author
He spent some time talking to guys who had hung out at King’s gym. The gym itself was no more—it burned up the night King turned up dead—but Parks was able to track down a few guys. They all said Fabrizzi killed King too, and they all had their pet theories, mostly nonsense. He finally got his break when he found Pops Dugan. Pops was a trainer, had been King’s trainer when the guy was still fighting. He was 40 years in the fight game, and, in his time, he’d seen just about everything. He knew where all the bodies were buried. Parks only wanted to know about one.
“I suppose you could say it was over a woman.” Pops was a lunger off his meds, and many years a smoker besides; he talked through liquid. “It’s not like you think, though -- two guys love the same dame and kill each other over her. Nothing like that. Johnny never loved anyone enough to kill over ‘em.”
He coughed, a long, gooey, nasty cough that had impending death written all over it. He spit up some shit into a hankerchief, then rammed it back down in his pocket.
“See, it was that last fight,” told the tale of Fabrizzi’s ill-fated scrap with Rico Villalobos the same way everyone else had. “It messed his mind up, see? He didn’t want to do it anymore after that. Harry tried to get him back, but he was nothin’ doin’. Then, one day, Johnny finds out about Harry’s girlfriend.” More coughing, less severe. “Harry had been seein’ this little Latin chick for about a year at that point, but he was always kinda’ quiet about it. Didn’t talk much about her. You never saw him out with her, so forth.” He stopped as if thinking something over. Parks was about to ask, then, quietly, “The lady turned out to be the sister of Rico Villalobos.”
Pops was an old man and had trouble with his breath; he didn’t waste any more of it trying to explain. And he didn’t have to. The implications were as clear to Parks as they would have been to Johnny.
Make sure. “This thing with the lady was going on before the fight was set up?”
“Yeah. Several months before.”
The important one. “How do you know all this?”
He waited, then quietly: “Harry was a good friend.” Paused, looked down at his feet, took a breath. “I practically raised him like I was his daddy. He never had no real daddy, you know?”
Pops expression went dark. “That night Johnny came lookin’ for him I was over at Mike’s.” He coughed.
A light went on in Park’s head. “Mike’s Bar and Grill?”
“Yeah,” continued like it didn’t mean anything. “Johnny came in.” Deep breath. “He was loud and fireplug red and raisin’ hell about he wanted to know where the fuck Harry was.” Pops was wheezing, now, fighting for every word. “He pulled me out the door and roughed me up pretty good.” He was gasping now, sat down on the curb, leaned back on a lamp post, trying to compose himself.
Parks thought he had it, said it: “You told him where Harry was.”
“I took worse beatin’s in the ring a dozen times over, but I folded up like an accordion just the same! I was half drunk. I told him, and he killed Harry.” He stopped, then he went on: “I killed Harry. I told him, and that killed Harry just as sure as I had shot him myself.”
Nothing Parks could say to that at all.
It wasn’t anything that would ever hold up in court, but Parks was pretty sure he had the real why of Harold King’s present job as lawn fertilizer. Mike’s B&G, hunh? Small world, indeed. What none of this told him was why the Reaper would care about all this.
He let it simmer on his brain for a while, went for a walk. Strolled down to Mike’s B&G, took a look at the empty lot where the gym had stood. Small world, indeed.
“It’s all true, Mr. Parks.”
The words and the voice he knew, sent a chill down his spine, spun around and was facing a skinny kid, eighteen or so. He hadn’t even heard the kid come up behind him. “Who the hell are you?”
The kid smiled. “Sorry if I scared you, Steve. I just wanted to see if you recognized my voice.”
Unnecessarily, “Guy that called me the night I cut Braden loose.” Then to the point: “You’re David King.”
“Very good. And you’re the guy who’s supposed to be able to tell me what I need to know.”
Parks looked at the kid blankly.
“You’ve heard about the things I can do.” It was a statement.
Parks treated it as a question. “You can see things.”
“Things that haven’t happened yet.” Frustrated? “One of the things I saw not very long ago was that you would show up on this street corner tonight and tell me what’s up with my father.”
Parks didn’t catch on, shook his head a bit. “He’s dead. Been dead for a while.” Which the kid knows, so why is he asking me?
“He died, yeah. So why’s he still walking around like nothing ever happened?”
“He’s alive, but he isn’t himself anymore. Very...” stopped, as it searching for a word, “unearthly. He’s sort of like a ghost, but he’s real. Says he has a mission. I don’t know what the hell he’s talking about, but he wants me to recruit you for it.” He paused. “He recruited Sam Braden.”
Then it clicked. Shit, how did I miss it? “Your father is the Reaper.”
“That’s what Braden calls him.”
Parks remembered his dreams. The being would have to merge with a human, but this would change him in unpredictable ways. He would be stripped of much of his power and subject to human impulses. He may be dangerous. He may be John Manson himself. Or he may be the savior of mankind.
Parks looked at the kid, who was looking back at him expectantly. Of course! The kid doesn’t know any of this stuff. He just thinks the Reaper is his father.
“Fortune, my man, we’ve got a lot to talk about.”
That’s impossible, she had started to tell them. Harry was the last man with whom she had sex, and he was many months in the grave now.
She thought of the dream and wondered. It had been her last night in Mexico. Harry came to her, made love to her, told her not to fear. It had seemed so real.
“Is it you, Harry?” She asked the strange presence that had followed her for so long now.
No answer was forthcoming.
He’d tried to escape Death for many months. He’d gone here and there, spent his fortune on the project, all to no avail. Death always came for him, and Death always got It’s way.
Death wore a face now, the face of a man Johnny had killed. It had shown Johnny It’s face the last time they met, right before It took Johnny’s sight and hearing. Johnny remembered the face. The man to which it had once belonged had been his friend, his teacher. But the man had betrayed Johnny, humiliated him, and Johnny had killed him with his own hands. Now Death wore his face.
Johnny wasn’t aware of the days anymore. He had no way of keeping track of them. He knew Death would be coming for him on the first, as It always did, and the next time, It would finish him. It had promised.
Throughout his many months of dying, Johnny had many strange dreams, visions, hallucinations—he didn’t know which. They told him things, things of past and future. And, in recent times, Johnny had made a friend. He could see this friend, though he had no eyes with which to do so. He could hear him, though he couldn’t hear anything else. The friend wanted to know his story, wanted to hear about his dead teacher, wanted to know what happened in the dreams. Johnny told him everything. What else was there to do? He told him.
Then, one day, his friend thanked him and was gone, and Johnny knew that was the day Death would come to take him.
A spectre haunted the city at night. No one knew what it was, but sometimes—just sometimes—you could feel it, something dark and menacing, moving through the shadows, invisible. Watching. Stalking.
This spectre had descended over the city after the mobsters had been killed. In its concentrated form, it could provoke feelings of uneasiness, chills, prickling of the hairs at the back of the neck. Then, as suddenly as it had appeared, it would vanish without a trace, leaving only those affected to wonder if it was real or if they were just being silly, getting spooked over nothing. Night was never a time of complete easiness in the city, but this spectre was something new and not of the usual terrors of the night.
The usual terrors. Night was also a city of crime. Brigands and rapists and killers vigorously plied their trades, and, if the public’s fear of them was exaggerated, they existed, nonetheless.
They had taught fear, these minions of the night. They used it as a weapon. Now, they learned it themselves, as the mysterious spectre seemed to strike at them again and again.
It was said this terror was a man, or had once been a man. Those believing the latter each held their own opinion as to what the man had become. It was said that he could walk through walls, change form, ride the wind. It was said he couldn’t die. Blades and bullets and fire and bombs couldn’t hurt him. He could see the future. He could read your thoughts. He could kill with a glance. He was a god. A monster. A nightmare given physical form.
No one ever saw him, only what was said to be the results of his labors. Was his passing marked by the battered, lifeless remains of those whose paths he had crossed, or were these just more anonymous deaths in a long catalogue of same? No one knew, but other than them, he left no trace of himself, and those who didn’t believe in him had good reason.
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Death Deals is copyright Jeremy Riddle. It may not be copied or used
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