BY JEREMY RIDDLE
About the author
Seven guys in the room. One killed in the explosion, one deaf and blind from it. Five chopped down dead or dying before they even pulled a roscoe. The Reaper tucked the tommy under his coat, pulled out his longslides and finished off the ones he hadn’t yet. Then he shot the ones he had, just for good measure.
The joint was in an uproar even before the sound of the blast had settled, hardguys running back and forth. Guys yelling orders, doing their level best to keep the mass confusion from becoming mass hysteria. Braden looked up at Johnny Fabrizzi, who had taken a heartbeat to go from beet-red pissed-off to pale-as-a-sheet-in-low-light. Braden decided to pile on, twisting his smashed lips into a grin through caked blood that must have looked really hideous.
He looked up at Johnny, whispered: “Now, he’s here for you.”
Johnny looked down at Braden, terror creeping into his features, but only for a second. Give the kid credit, Braden thought. He’s a hothead and an idiot, but he’s got enough of his father in him to get his shit together in a pinch.
There was shouting and screams from downstairs, then another explosion, this one rocking the entire house. Then more screams. Johnny had his gat out and was waving at guys going by the door, yelling orders, relaying them to the rest of the compound. Then he turned back to Braden, inhaled sharply. “What does he want?”
“He wants you, Johnny.” By God, I’ll break this little bastard, Braden thought. As if to punctuate the moment, the Reaper’s mocking laughter filled the room and all the others, coming from everywhere at once.
That was enough for Johnny. “Oh, Christ!” He wavered, then tried to get back his composure, but then there was a scream, and Johnny just came all to pieces. “What…,” then stopped because he didn’t know what to say.
Braden took a deep breath and winced. He was tied to a chair. Johnny’s boys had caught him less than 5 minutes after he had last seen the Reaper, and, just like he figured, Johnny didn’t want to hear that a faceless ghoul had killed his daddy. He especially didn’t want to hear this from a fat man covered in blood, who had been on the scene and had an empty pistol tucked in his waistband. That was the only story Braden had to tell, so they had brought Braden home and worked on him all night, mostly just beating him up for the fun of it. They were saving the actual torture for later. Now Braden had the chance, and he wanted to see Johnny squirm.
Johnny was stalking this way and that, listening to the small war that had broken out downstairs. He looked at Braden. “Who is it?!”
“It’s Death, Johnny. The Reaper.”
Johnny took a breath, sneered, and suddenly looked tough again. “Yeah,” he said. “Whatever.” He went to the door and started yelling more orders. Got to give him credit, Braden thought.
Downstairs, the Reaper had his blade out, going about his own brand of harvesting.
Johnny’s hardguys were rushing in from outside and from upstairs, and the Reaper was playing a game of hide and seek, ducking around this corner and that, then slicing down anyone who came close and moving on. From time to time, he would throw a fragmentation grenade and deck the halls with gangster gore.
He was methodical. He left no survivors. Within minutes of his entering the compound, the very few hardguys who remained had stopped trying to fight him and were fleeing for their lives. The Reaper tracked them down mercilessly, cutting them off from escape then cutting them down where they stood.
The last—one everybody called Petey--was hiding in the kitchen pantry. His whimpering probably gave him away. He squealed like a little girl when the Reaper jerked open the pantry door and dragged him out. The Reaper’s laughter was blood-curdling, as he hauled Petey over to the large oak dinner table and slammed him down on its surface. He had picked up some utensils from the pantry, and he started to work. A large butcher knife shoved through Petey’s left shoulder pinned him to the table. A smaller one did the same for his right wrist. The Reaper ripped open the guy’s shirt and cut an inverted “J” pattern in his belly. Then he turned the table over on its side, so Petey was sitting on his ass watching his guts pour out in front of him. Pinned to the table, all he could do was die.
Upstairs, Johnny was yelling, but no one was answering. This guy’s name. Then that guy’s name. No one had anything to say to Johnny anymore. He still had his tough on, but it was getting fuzzy around the edges again. He had heard something a few seconds ago; it had started out sounding like Petey yelling, then screaming, then it turned into something he couldn’t even identify as human. Then it went away, and there was nothing.
Johnny ducked back into the room with Braden, still not quite defeated. He pointed his gun at Braden’s head. “Start talkin’.” His gun-hand only shook a little.
“You already heard it.” Braden wasn’t backing off an inch.
“THAT’S BULLSHIT, YOU SONUVABITCH!!! TELL ME WHAT YOU KNOW!!!” The hand was shaking a lot now.
“Why don’t you ask him?” Braden motioned toward the door.
Johnny whirled around and there was the Reaper in the doorway, tall, dressed in black, his blade in hand.
Johnny didn’t hesitate, just opened up at point-blank range. Braden swore and jerked his head to the side, unable to cover his ears against the crash of the pistol in the confined space. The Reaper staggered back a few steps under the fusilade, then stepped forward again seemingly none the worse for wear. Johnny was laughing hysterically now, kept trying to pull the trigger, even after the gun had locked back empty. The Reaper approached slowly, then, in a move so fast Braden barely saw it, lashed out with a side kick that sent Johnny’s gun hurtling to the far corner of the room.
Braden was ringing ears and gooseflesh from head to toe. He didn’t like being in the same room with the Reaper, but the idea no longer inspired the mindless terror it would have only a few hours ago. While Johnny’s boys had been roughing him up tonight, Braden had worked out a few things. The Reaper had seen that he was spattered with gore, and had given him an empty pistol, knowing full well the conclusion anyone would draw from this. He pointed Braden down the road right to where, as it turned out, Johnny’s boys had been looking for him. And what could Braden say? Who would believe the truth? It looked, to Braden, like the Reaper had set him up for some reason, maybe just to find this place. “A 'pawn,' he called me.” The idea that the Reaper had been using him somehow made the Reaper seem less threatening. Here was not some indiscriminate supernatural terrorist, randomly exacting divine retribution on a shitty world; here was a reasoning, methodical creature.
Right now, he was methodically kicking Johnny Fabrizzi’s ass up one side and down the other. It had started as a one-sided fight; Johnny was so shocked that he hadn’t been killed outright that he just stood there taking a beating. When he realized he wasn’t dead, he started fighting back. Johnny had been a middleweight boxer, a damn good one, and he might’ve gone all the way, but he never learned to control his temper.
He put up a good fight. At first, anyway. They danced around the room like it was a ring, trading blows back and forth. At one point, Johnny landed a peach of a right hook, snapped the Reaper’s head back and sent his hat flying. The Reaper’s knees went rubbery for a second, and it looked like he was about to go down.
But only for a second. Then he shook it off and poured it on, and Johnny just couldn’t keep up. For every hard shot he fed the Reaper, he ate five himself, and in less than a minute he was flat on his ass and wondering where he was.
The Reaper laughed, not his usual mocking laugh, just a short, low contemptuous one. He walked over to the wall where his hat had gone, put it back on his head, turned to Braden, who flinched at the motion. Then he wheeled toward the door and walked out of the room, returning a few seconds later with his blade. Braden’s blood went to ice when he saw the Reaper was coming to him instead of Johnny.
“Wait a minute…” he started but never finished.
The Reaper took a stance, swung. Braden, eyes shut, heard the blade whistling through the air, then the ropes that held him went slack. He opened his eyes and he was alright. The Reaper was behind him working on the rope that held his hands. Then they were free. Braden started to jump right up, but he was sore from the beating and couldn’t.
The Reaper stepped around in front of him. “I thank you, Samuel Braden.”
This Braden didn’t expect at all. He didn’t say anything, just rubbed his ribs. He wasn’t even beaten up very badly. They had worked on him for several hours, but they weren’t so tough as they thought, and they hadn’t gotten too serious about it anyway. Now they never would.
Johnny had put enough of his marbles back in the sack to be stirring around, trying to get up. “Watch and listen,” the Reaper said, and walked over to him.
Johnny started to grumble something and the Reaper reached down and grabbed two handfuls of his shirt, hauled him up to eye level. Now he was all attention, staring down the Reaper’s featureless visage at point-blank range. “Shit,” he managed to get out, but it wasn’t much more than a whisper.
“Jonathan Fabrizzi, for Harold King and what you would do to the future, you will die by my hand.”
Johnny wasn’t sure what was real. Bad enough he’d just had his clock punched, but here was a guy telling him he was about to be killed and the guy didn’t even have a mouth!
The Reaper half-shoved and half-dropped Johnny, left him a pile on the floor. He stepped back, reached up under his coat and tore something loose, dropped it on the ground in front of Johnny-pile. It was a flak jacket, shot all to hell. Johnny-pile just looked at it and stayed a pile.
The Reaper moved forward, stepped on Johnny’s arm, which got a grunt. His blade fell like a guillotine with the same sickening thump at the end, but it wasn’t Johnny’s head in a basket when it was over. It was his hand on the floor, severed at the wrist. Suddenly Johnny-pile was Johnny again, thrashing around, screaming, bleeding. The Reaper reached down, picked up the hand and stashed it in his coat pocket.
“This is August the first, Jonathon Fabrizzi. In the next six months, I will visit you six times. Always on the first. You will die a little more each time.”
He walked over to Braden. “Tell what you’ve seen and heard tonight.” He went out the door and was gone.
Death Deals is copyright Jeremy Riddle. It may not be copied or used
for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts used for reviews.
(Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want to read it!)