An old man shuffled down the narrow alley, his eyes downcast. He mumbled to himself beneath the bright, midday sun. Sweat poured down his face in rivulets. He wore only filthy rags and I could smell the aged stench of him from a distance.
I observed his progress as I knelt behind a tangle of bushes, hidden. He had no idea he was being watched. Nevertheless, he stopped for a moment to glance around warily before resuming his slow trek.
At the opposite end of the alley, a predator appeared, cutting off the old man’s path of escape. He wore a dark, sleeveless vest and baggy, purple plastipants. His pale skin was strangely dry considering the heat and his thick, coiled locks were constrained only by a thin, faux-leather thong.
My heart raced as I observed the drama being played out before me. There was something deadly almost-but-not-quite hidden beneath the mask of youth implicit in his demeanor, ready to burst forth.
He played with a glinting, silver stiletto while eyeing the old man from beneath the shadow of his brow. Heavy ammo belts covered his chest and two massive pistols hung from the emblazoned double-holster fixed at the cross of the bandoleer.
The old man finally looked up, noticing the youth blocking his path. Fear stole over him and the gargle in his throat elicited a similarly gasping response from me as he turned and began running back down the alley.
“Hey, ya ol muck flubber! Where ya think ya goin, eh mon?” The bravo taunted, his eyes glinting as he followed his prey.
He moved slowly, languidly, watching the old man’s desperate retreat, the knife poised, wickedly, in his left hand. His crooked smile signaled the end of the game and his eyes narrowed, perhaps calculating the trajectory of death.
I crouched back further in the darkness of the bushes, praying that I wouldn’t be seen. I strained to see past obstructing branches with the curiosity of the damned.
The old man passed me retreating in the direction from whence he had come – his feet shuffling desperately through the pavement-covering debris. His breath came in harsh gasps and his eyes rolled back in his head as his last moments approached on shiny, blood-tipped claws.
“Hey, scab! Watch me now, ya mon!”
The predator took three short steps, bringing his left arm back behind his head in a graceful arc. The blade caught the sun in my eyes and red tracers distorted my vision.
The arm shot forward, the stiletto a blur as it raced toward its target. A wet thunk barely preceded the heavy sound of a body falling to earth. The youth had kept his promise, releasing the old man from his commitment to life.
I did not dare look. The killer walked slowly to the body, whistling a nonsense tune. I froze as he passed my bushes. The breath was still in my chest. His shadow fell over me, cool and empty, threatening to erase me with strokes of bold loneliness.
Moments passed but I remained still. I found myself wishing I were anyplace else: wishing I were anyplace else in the universe other than where I was.
But then, where else could I be, a man in my position? A mosquito buzzed past my sweating face and landed on my arm.
I concentrated on its passage; watching it explore the smooth, mahogany morphology of my forearm, finally settling on a spot to feast. The blood pulsed beneath my skin and I could clearly see its course through my body in my minds eye.
The elixir of life, I thought bitterly. The fiery breath of God Incarnate. I closed my eyes, unwilling to observe the mosquito’s actions any further, or to follow my present train of thought.
I could hear the movement of the killer as he knelt beside the body and retrieved his knife; the horrendously moist suction created by the removal of the blade. His fingers, pawing and pulling at the dead mans rags, looking for God Knows What. He completed his search and strode past me again, still whistling.
I let my breath out slowly. Carefully.
Just as he turned the corner of the alley he stopped and looked back.
Directly at me.
The breath stilled in my body as terror froze time and our eyes met across an impossible distance.
Somehow, in that moment, I recognized him. I caught a glimpse of the gaping emptiness that passed for his soul: a glimpse that reminded me uncomfortably of myself. The moment passed and the crooked smile returned. He spoke to me quietly but loud enough to clearly hear.
“Good throw, eh mon? We killamans gotta stick togedder, sho nuff said. Catcha lata mebbe, Bugman.”
Then he was gone. I continued to kneel behind the bushes, shocked senseless, all efforts to conceal myself forgotten.
He had recognized me.
BB Series Interludes