Those of us who ended up in West Feln were often called “Lush.” Out in the more sane parts of the city, sane by comparison that is, some would tremble if they heard the word even uttered. None of that could possibly matter here. The word slid off his tongue, thrown out from unbarred teeth with no thought behind it at all.
    That was all fine. They caught me, I should have looked behind me, but I didn’t. I ignored my senses, that one thing that made me suited for this job. I was careful, stealthy and could slip into the night without notice. Now, that I was caught, Telle called the shots.
    Telle snapped his fingers in front of my nose, then took a few steps back to lean against the one table in the room. It brought me back to reality. Back to the pain, and back to his words. “Come on, Lush. Focus.” He nodded to the unnamed man behind me, who was so large I was shrouded in shadow; in a barely lit room nonetheless.
    I felt the ropes around my wrists tighten. Blood dripped off my fingertips, each drop splattering on the ground. As the bleeding slowed, each splash softened, and it coagulated into a thick sludge beneath the chair. Elf blood could leave such a mess.
    “We know you killed Fran, Lush. I know you were coming after me next. That’s why you’re here, right? To kill me?” Telle hopped back onto the table, cracking each one of his knuckles slowly as he did. He spoke slowly. There was no rush here. “So, tell me who hired you? Cops? Someone who had a grudge? One of Schrader’s enemies?” He smiled, cool and heartless. “I’ll have my associate make it quick. The other option…” He trailed off, another knuckle cracking.
    I looked around the room, acting calm, but the effect wasn’t significant. I hurt, and being tied to the chair didn’t help. “You say ‘we.’ I can’t see anyone else in here but Mr. Big behind me. Schrader’s leash that tight around your neck? Even with a little freedom, you’re still too scared to just do what you want?” I did my best to flick my chin in the direction of the big lug. “Maybe you got to act tough. Try to get me to talk, even though you know I won’t. In case this fella back here turns you in?”
    Telle gestured with his hand. An explosion of pain came with it. 
Mr. Big grabbed the top of my head, pulled it back so his aim wouldn’t suffer if he had to whack me again.
    I spoke each word as slow as Telle had. A tooth had come loose in that last knock, and I didn’t want to swallow it by chattering too quick. “Order him to hit me all you want. That doesn’t change the fact you’re still second in command after all these years. No place on Ashen Way for you. No way these crooks you hire won’t sell you out the first chance they get.”
    My mouth has a habit of getting me in trouble. Perhaps why I agreed to this job in the first place. Spoke before I thought. Anyway, whether or not my mouth and my head get along was something to think on another day. For now, it was lights out.


     I woke up.
     I cannot add much to that because it was a miracle I woke up at all. Telle generally left his victims in that deep, forever kind of sleep. He must have needed me greatly. A trophy to show Schrader. Telle catching me would let the big boss know he was capable. The more I could say once I got to him, the better. There was no doubt in my mind that Schrader could get me to talk. He had a good reputation for that.
    My hands, feet, and waist were still bound to the wooden chair. Although my left eye was swollen and useless, I was relieved to feel it moving in sync with my right. A good sign the muscle was still attached. I just hoped when the eyelid finally opened I could see. Just because it moved didn’t mean I wasn’t permanently blind.
    That would be something. The Raven. Dark. Stealthy. Soundless. Blind on the left.
    Not a great advertisement: I can turn right no problem, but I have an issue when I get jumped on the left. Ha!
    From what my undamaged eye was seeing, the room was still bare. No windows, no furniture besides the single table. A door leading to the hallway was on my left, it looked like it was closed. A door slightly ajar to my right led to a closet. That’s where all Telle’s torture tools were held.
    There was no sign of Mr. Big or Telle. I had that much going for me.
    A single candle burned on the table, I’m sure more for their protection than my comfort. It wasn’t much of a secret in West Feln of how dangerous I am in the dark.
    Something flickered on the table, as the candle’s flame moved from side to side. I strained, getting used to the ominous lighting arrangement, and recognized it as a bent knife. A few inches long, dull blade, broken tip. Probably leftover from last night’s victim, whoever that was. That was something, though.
    Was it a trap? I didn’t care. The table was just a few feet away. If I could muster enough energy to hop my chair up to it, without making too much noise, I could grab it with my teeth. You’d be surprised at how well I could flick something into my hands bound like that. Being in my line of work, this wasn’t my first hostage situation.
    I might be just a Lush to these crooks, but everyone on this side of the city knew Raven was the best.
    I inhaled and went for it. The first hop was a success.


    It didn’t work out. I made it roughly two feet before Mr. Big heard my bangs, scrapes, and huffs. He non-ironically returned the noises to my ribs. His fists were extremely effective in that department. The lug grabbed my chair, spun me round, then dragged me into the corner of the room.
    I wasn’t sure, but I thought I heard him walk to the table and grab that knife before closing the door and locking it behind him.
    All that was okay, because I personally enjoy a challenge. It keeps me sharp. Things had been going too easy for quite awhile.
    I thought on that for a bit, right up until I fell unconscious. Whether I was tired, or it was from the beatings I had no clue. My pride wasn’t bruised, even if I was. Four beatings in a day would take a toll on just about anyone. Even Mr. Big.


    Lucky for me, they made a classic mistake.
    Mr. Big came in alone. Telle gave orders to bring me out. It was time.

    Telle was a show-off; having his patsy do all the work. The man doesn’t understand how one comes into being a big time crime boss. You cannot start out having others do everything while you sit and watch, cleaning your fingernails. The first few years you have to get just as dirty as the others. Have your hands in the fray, mix it up, make people afraid.
    Guys like Mr. Big aren’t cut out for working alone. He has the muscle, sure, but the brains? Doubtful.
    One thing Telle didn’t count on was how quiet I can be. I mean silent. Once my limbs were free, there was no chair to encumber me.
    Telle didn’t hear the two elbow shots I gave to Mr. Big’s neck after he untied me. He didn’t hear me slip quietly onto the stooge’s back, throw a hand over his mouth as I grabbed the broken blade from his belt, sliding it neatly between his ribs. I had to push a bit more, due to the broken tip, but in the end, it accomplished the same as a sharp blade would.
    Mr. Big went down real quiet like. I kept my hand over his mouth until I was sure his days of talking were over. I searched his person, found a newly sharpened sword, roughly arm’s length, and swung it about, getting a feel for the weight of it. Slim, light and well balanced.
    “Hurry up in there!” Telle shouted around the corner. “I told you not to beat him too much. Schrader’ll need him to talk! You break that jaw, and I’ll break yours!”
    Doubtful, I thought.
    I slipped to the front of the room and blew out the candle. A placidity fell over me. Darkness. I was darker than most of my kind that immigrates up from The Wilds. My eyes were not the usual green, but jet black. When shadows fall over me, I use it like a blanket. I wrap every fiber of my being into it.
    Telle has heard the rumors about me. When the candle went out, he swore. “Detz?” He called out, voice trembling a bit.
    So, Mr. Big did have a name. With his build and a dumb name like that, he must have a bit of ogre in him. Shame on Telle. He should have known they were right for throwing punches, but not much for dodging out of the way of them.
    Telle lunged in, looked around the room, but it was too late. I was already on top of him, slashing out as brisk as my beaten body would let me. I missed, he was on my left. There was no room to slip around him out the door.
    He cried out as I again slashed upwards, hitting his arm and cutting across his face. I kept going with nothing to lose. I already failed, hearing boots trudging both ways down the hall outside.
     Telle stumbled backwards, I bolted for the door.

     I looked both ways. One led further into the building, and into the grasp of goons armed to the teeth. The other looked to head towards the main exit. Only one man, wide eyed and desperately searching for a weapon stood in my way.
    “That way it is, then,” I said to myself. I took off, feinted left, then right and slit the man’s throat as he fell for my trap. The goon collapsed, crying out.
    “After him!” Telle screamed from behind as if the entire building wasn't already on high alert.
    Two double doors stood in my way. I was feeling tired already, it had been too much for my body, but I pushed myself that last little bit and threw myself through the doors, out into the warm, black night.
    I scanned my surroundings, got my bearings and then took off the opposite way I had come into West Feln. I figured that would buy me a bit of time, as I dodged into an alleyway and crouched against a cold brick wall.
     Men were shouting back and forth from where I had just come, most of the footsteps seemed to head back east towards the main part of the city. South and then east, just a few hundred feet from me the River Feln flowed. I could cross there, travel a few blocks and be back into the heart of Central in mere minutes.
    Only two men came my way. One on the north side of the street, one directly on my side. They were going from building to building, checking each alleyway. I waited, pressed up against the wall, for the man on my side to poke his head in. When he did, I grabbed him by the shirt, spun his head, cracking his neck. In an instant, he went down quietly. 
    I didn’t miss a beat. I hopped out onto the sidewalk, taking the man’s place. It would be too dark for his partner to notice I wasn’t him unless we were up close.
    I traveled down the street, pretending to check each alley, but instead was searching for an opening that would lead me behind the buildings and down towards the river.
    It was a few buildings down, but I finally found an alley that ended with a short wooden fence, instead of an impossibly high brick wall. “Perfect,” I muttered.
    Just as the man on the other side of the street went to search the adjacent alley, I sprinted in, jumped the fence and slid down the muddy embankment towards the river. I plunged into the current, tried the best I could to not swallowing any of the murky water, and swam towards the other side.
    Once I had crossed I hobbled up the shore, soaked and despite the warm weather, freezing. I shook violently, but rubbed my hands against my shoulders, trying to warm up.
    It didn’t matter. I was a few minutes run from where my employer waited for me. The run would warm me.


    In the end, none of it was worth it. I failed. 
    This was the only job I had never completed. Sure, Fran was dead, but Telle escaped. Sure, I made it out alive, but the underground buzzed with how Telle Brooks that slimeball, murdering scum bested The Raven. Schrader was sure to give him some sort of false, in name only promotion. At the very least give him a bit more autonomy.
    What did it get me? I’m alive. I didn’t get paid. Not much else to say about that. What’s life if you cannot afford to live?


    My boss, her face half masked from the cheeks up, pressed her fingers together. I sat across from her, my bruises almost healed, my eye seeing, but blurry.
    I leaned back in my chair, threw a leg up onto the table that sat between us, curled my hands behind my head.
    “What?” I said. It was a question but came out more like a statement.
    “I’m giving you a second chance.” She said, voice wispy.
    “Me almost dying wasn’t enough for you?” I was in no mood to have this discussion. I had already told her I was done. Done with her, done with the other cops too scared to let me know who they were. In case I switched sides. In case, I got a better payment from someone else.
    I wasn’t like that. I am loyal, almost to a fault, if there is money behind it. But, I don’t squash rumors that make me sound harsher than I really am. It helps keep an air of danger about me. Also, it helps with people willing to part with the money I ask for.
    “Telle is still alive. You didn’t finish the job.” She was unmoving. A real tough cop.
    I laughed. “Yeah. I saw last time we got together.”
    “Why didn’t you take him out? You said you killed at least three of his men.”
    “Not at least three, definitely and only three.” I don’t inflate my numbers. That’s the one rumor I keep realistic. If they think you killed less than you did, you’re seen as a joke. If it gets around you’ve killed more than you should have, people expect too much from you. I like to keep it all in perspective.
    “You said he was right there.” She leaned forward, her chair creaking softly. “You should have finished the job.”
    I waved her off. She was making no sense. A cop that was promoted too soon for her own good. She probably had a big break in a case, a lucky break. Thinks she has seen it all. Good at her job, sure, but has this romantic sense of the streets, of crime and the criminals behind them.

    “I could’ve killed him. Yeah, but I wouldn’t have made it out of that building alive. I still wouldn’t have gotten paid, and still would’ve gotten a bad reputation.” I slammed my feet back onto the ground, my ribs were still aching if I sat still too long. “Trust me. Dead is worse than failing. Dying after you fail, that’s another story.”
    “Then go back. Kill Brooks. We need to scare Schrader off, let him know no matter how many of these low-lives he sets up we will get them. Get to his men, we get to him. Eventually, he will break.”
    I laughed again. This woman was too much. “You think he won’t stop hiring cannon fodder? You think men like Fran and Telle aren’t just numbers to him? He hires them, and if they bite it, then he hires two more. It keeps the rest of them on their toes.”
    “If it’s too dangerous then he’ll stop getting men volunteering for it.” She was serious.
    “He’ll up the pay!” I smacked the table. “You’re going about this all wrong. You want to get to them, then we kill Schrader.”
    “You couldn’t kill Telle. You won’t go back for Telle. You think I’m going to believe you can kill a top boss like Schrader?” She was genuinely surprised.
    “I like a challenge. Telle, he’ll be on the alert now. He has a reputation to keep up. Plus, Schrader will hire a replacement for Fran soon. This one will be tougher than Fran or Telle. That’ll put some competition into each of the companies.” I took a second to collect my thoughts. I tried to keep my mouth in check, after what it got me last time. “See, Schrader will have his guard down. He understands the game you’re playing. I bet he’s getting too comfortable.” 
    “We go for him and let’s say you do it. You don’t think Telle or whoever the new hire is won’t step up and take his place?” I had her on the ropes.
    “Nah. These guys see a big boss like Schrader go down, and they’ll scatter. There’s plenty of others out in West Feln looking for flunkies.”
    She sat quiet, mulling it over. I could see her brain chewing on it, slowly, like some sort of mental cud.
    “Fine.” She said, getting up. “You’ve got two days.” She spun to walk away.
    “One thing,” I said, making her pause. “If I come back, double the original price.”
    She nodded. Turned to walk, and as she slipped behind a curtain hiding her exit, she called over her shoulder. “If you fail, don’t bother coming back this time.”
    I didn’t reply. 
    “Man,” I said to myself. “Sometimes my mouth really gets me in trouble.” I guess I hadn’t thought it through enough. I felt like calling myself a Lush.


© 2016-20 Fitts Harper