Blades of pale light pierced through the gray hazy sky that loomed with a deep saturation over the desperate city. The cries of many washed under the sounds of traffic and the occasional roar of thunder. The light splashed against the glass of the Richard Keller building–a towering scraper that rose towards the heavens in narrowing stacks of steel and glass—shielding those inside from the toxicity of the air, the cacophony that plagued the inner city, and the scorching heat of an afternoon sun.
Nava sat in a cushioned chair with no intention to stay longer than needed, and delivered Mr. Keller a steady gaze that sought for truth behind the lies. Keller, with legs crossed as if talking business, tapped the end of a metallic pen against the mahogany desk.
“So are you going to tell me or not,” asked Nava, agitated.
“I already told you,” said Keller, glancing away for a moment with a heavy sigh. “I don’t know a damn thing about that property.”
“But you own it and must have some sort of record of who leased it last,” asked Nava, more of a statement than a question.
“That piece of trash property,” said Keller, foolishness stretching across his wide wrinkled mug. “The last company to lease that dump went out of business years ago. With the economy decaying around us, there isn’t any use for my organization to inspect it anymore.”
“I don’t buy that for a minute,” said Nava, the tips of his fingers pressed together, and his elbows dug into the padded arms of the chair. “You know more.”
“Good lord. The moment the police decide to get balls and do something about this slum of a city the moment you would stop sniffing around in useless bullshit,” said Keller, holding the pen loosely between his clinched fingers, pointing the tip at Nava. “You have some nerve coming in here and expecting something close to respect. The police don’t run this joint any more than the drug dealers and the pimps. You represent trash overdue for throwing out.”
“Times are tough, very tough indeed, but without our help it would be much worse,” said Nava, holding back. “What do you know about the operation that took place on your property?”
“I don’t know a damn thing,” said Keller, leaning back in his chair.
“Stop with the lies. We know it was a military operation, and we know that you keep watch over your possessions. A man like you would demand some sort of compensation for the time spent on your land.”
“If that were true,” said Keller, raising an eyebrow. “You wouldn’t find a damn thing. Nothing in the books, nothing close to the type of evidence you would need to tie this to me.”
“Time will tell,” said Nava, smugly. “Once we get the information we need, we’ll meet again.”
“You mean from the engineer gone rogue? You won’t have the time. He’ll be dead before he reveals anything more than he already has,” said Mr. Keller.
“Is that a threat,” asked Nava, leaning forward.
“No,” said Keller, clicking the pin. “It’s a matter of fact.”
“Enjoy your remaining moments of freedom, because when this is through, your ass will be in jail,” said Nava. He rose from the chair and stepped out from Mr. Keller’s office without another word.
The lieutenant walked with anger seething between his teeth. He thought, for a moment anyway, that something useful would come from the lead, but instead he found another dead end. A man dressed in a dark suit walked by, brushing against Nava’s shoulder. Instantly the two stared at each other. Nava, distracted by the case, thought little of paying any respect to the gentleman, whereas the suit gazed with narrowing green eyes, piercing, scanning, and judging. Before Nava could say a word the suit entered the elevator. Nava dusted off the sleeve of his gray short sleeve shirt, and the motion caused his the thin chain that held his badge to wiggle slightly.
Nava exited the front and felt the humidity almost immediately. Standing at the steps, he could feel his pits gushing with sweat. He wiped his forehead, and swallowed through a dry mouth. Herds of people walked along the sidewalks in various clusters, making it difficult to enter, and much more rewarding to leave. Nava bid his time for a quick phone call before daring to cross the consistent current.
“Pick up you old bastard,” said Nava, softly as he eyed the women walking by. “Hey Roberts, it’s me, Nava. I tried the lead you gave me and got nothing. I hope you start rethinking your plans for retirement.” Nava ended the voicemail and closed his cellular phone. After taking a moment to clear his head, the lieutenant stepped into the moving crowd and followed suit. Like the rest, he stayed clear of the darker areas of the street, avoiding the alleyways with pretentious ignorance to the muffled sounds of fighting. Crime infested his poverty-stricken city, slowly but surely causing the once beautiful city he grew up in to plummet into a chaotic nightmare that no amount of arrests could prevent. It soured on his tongue, generating memories pregnant with regret, but Mr. Keller was right; the power of the badge faded into shadows as the change in times released a tormenting sense of desperation. An economic meltdown like the world had never seen brought this powerful nation on its knees, and those willing to threat with nuclear attacks and other disasters didn’t hesitate. The further the depression hit, the more increasing the stakes for a better life became. Thus, hundreds of people were tossed out of the corporate sector to test their wits against the bleak, desolate streets that rendered the more desperate individuals into prostitutes, drug dealers, and worse.
Nava strolled along the crosswalk with his fists deep into the pockets of his khaki cargo pants, while reliving the awkward moment when Captain Roberts decided to retire. Nava stopped to the abrupt squeal of a military truck and stepped towards the building. Rows of men and women branded with the patriot duty to serve in the world’s finest military force lined the cab of the truck.
The National Guard stormed to the sidewalk, grabbing anyone that looked of age, and carried them into the truck. One by one they’re loaded into their harvester of sorrow like cattle for the slaughter.
“At this rate you would think our way of life would be a little better,” said a homeless black woman.
“If they had any sense, they would clean out the alleyways,” said Nava. He watched as the armed forces proceeded to board the truck. A crack of lightning smeared from the sky and released a downpour onto the city.
Scampering over a pile of shattered stone and metal that gleamed in the light of a full moon, Abigail reached for the top with only minor cuts. She clasped the rusted rebar in her small, dirty hand and pulled herself over a rough slab of metal. She dusted her hands, wiping the residue against the denim of her jeans. She peered through the darkness of the opening–a gaping wound in what used to be solid floor—for any signs of movement. With the exception of the settling dust, there was nothing. Her gut fell deeper, pitting lower than before in hopelessness, but she leaped down anyway. The sound of her red converse hitting the floor was followed by a slight girlish groan.
Except with the occasional stress of the crumbling structure, the air was snuffed of any sound. A cool breeze emerged from the pit below, penetrating her soft exposed skin with a dryness she felt before. With her hands clinched around her arms, Abigail walked slowly towards the grave of her guardian. Buried under layers of clutter that weighed more than he did, Abigail could only rely on her gut feeling that he would some day return. She dropped to one knee and felt her smooth fingertips along the thorn of the rose she brought with her. She could feel the sharp natural instrument slicing through the layers of flesh, and though she connected with the tease of pain, she dared not to press deep enough to draw blood. With a moment of wishful thinking distracting her, Abigail placed the rose along with the others.
Though distant, the sound of men approaching sent her scurrying away for cover. She ducked under a metallic table that sat against the wall and waited with a curious eye. Obeying shouting commands, a group of men climbed over the ruins opposite of her entry. They struggled with reaching hands that scraped across the folds of sheet metal and steel. Profanity flowed from their mouths in thick waves, growing more potent on each attempt, while the sound of a starting engine roared behind. Only two of them made it over the scrap pile, and they watched as a bulldozer scooped what it could, leaving a small opening for the others to use.
All of them wore ragged clothing in desperate need of washing, and they approached as if haunted by some heavy burden. Some of them held knives, some grasped tightly onto lead pipes, but they all carried the intent to kill without the slightest sense of remorse. Abigail crawled deeper into her cover upon glimpse of the one in front. A cryptic symbol burned into the flesh of his forehead, searing the brand with a bold dark scar that represented, in one glance, an ever-moving entity of soullessness. The man, Malkovak, had haunted her before, rendering her frightened beyond imagination, all the while hoping that someone would help her.
“I can’t believe it took this long,” said Malkovak, the voice resounding deeply.
“She’s clever,” said the other.
“That she most definitely is,” said Malkovak, stepping towards the cluster of roses.
“Do you think he’ll still work,” asked the other.
“If our Lord deems it so,” said Malkovak, his voice lifted with a hint of pleasure. “And I believe he does. First we should bring in our sacrifice.”
Two cloaked individuals pushed a woman dressed in torn rags and bound in chains towards the rim of the pit. She squirmed and cried out for forgiveness, offering them her body as a compromise, but they were only mildly amused.
“Nzulmbi,” muttered Malkovak, kneeling down, inspecting the recently added rose.
“Nzulmbi,” said the others in complete unison.
“As children to your blessing, we call to you so that we shall not be forsaken,” said Malkovak, pulling out a curved dagger from under his coat. “For an ounce of sympathy and protection, we offer rivers of blood.” The others repeated the phrase, their voices collecting into a morbid choir.
Malkovak rose with the dagger slicing through the woman’s chest vertically. Blood splashed along the blade, staining the sleeves of his wool suit. A crimson tear gushed as if it were an open faucet, saturating her little rags. Malkovak pressed the blade against her neck, teasing her with a slow slicing motion that ate more and more of her flesh with growing hunger. A thin line of blood emerged from the wound, and Malkovak produced a little smirk. He pushed the screaming woman into the pit, watching as her body fell helplessly onto piercing rebar.
“Bring the equipment,” said Malkovak. “It’s going to take more than a bleeding woman to get him out of this.” He walked towards the table.
“We should thank her,” said the other.
“Then allow me,” said Malkovak. He reached under the table with fast hands and clinched firmly onto Abigail’s arm, pulling her out with complete ease despite her attempt to fight. “How easy this is,” he said. “We’ve got both of you, together. This will be a glorious day, indeed.”
His cell phone buzzed. “You got anything,” said Nava.
“No,” said Vivian, disappointed. “My source gave me nothing. A bunch of bullshit.”
“Well, it turns out Keller isn’t going to talk about it. This has to be the longest light ever,” said Nava as he slammed his palm against the steering wheel.
“If you’re on Main Street then you’ll be there for a few minutes. I suggest you get comfortable,” she said, stopping with an air of silence. “Wait, you already talked to Keller.”
“Yeah,” said Keller, heavily. “He wasn’t much help. But I swear we will get him for something. I know it.”
“Well, your intuition is right,” said Vivian.
“Why is that,” asked Nava, releasing off the break, slowly coasting behind the other slow responsive driver.
“He’s dead,” said Vivian. “I just heard that someone called in a body in the Keller building, and it was him. Do you know anything about it?”
“I don’t know shit,” said Nava. The light changed to red, catching him just before crossing the intersection. He slammed the steering wheel. “Wait. Before I left his office he gave an obscure threat. He pretty much warned that anyone that talks would die.”
“Nava, you should wait for me before you do anything,” she said.
“Sorry Viv, that isn’t going to happen,” said Nava. He floored the pedal and crossed the intersection, swerving between the vehicles for narrow openings that were closing by the second. He closed his cell and tossed it to the passenger seat. He grabbed the steering wheel with strong grasps that bleached his knuckles, and drove aggressively through the busy streets, navigating down side streets whenever traffic became too dense.
He drifted into the parking lot of a grungy apartment complex where roaches and rats were regulars, infesting the floors, crawling behind the walls, and thriving off the filth of the junkies, bottom feeders, and other slugs of life. Nava kicked in the flimsy chain linked postern and ran up the gravel steps. He stormed up the stairwell and stopped with heavy breathing by Levon’s door. He knocked and waited, and knocked again, but the stall of time played on his nerves. Nava pulled out his USP .45 and knocked one more time before trying the knob. Stubborn, but a good solid push forced the rotting particleboard to swing open. Nava stood on the threshold with gun raised, while the door pivoted against the wall.
“Levon,” said Nava, cautiously. “It’s Nava. Please tell me you’re in here.” Nava stepped deeper into the studio apartment, navigating a narrow trial that dug through the piles of junk and garbage composed of computer parts, fast-food wrappers, magazines and things collected over years of living. The bed, cluttered with paper plates stained with food residue, was empty. The computer chair, marked with white streaks going down the rim of it, was empty. The room, with the disgusting filth that hid in the closet, was empty of anything other than a few insects. A foul stench wafted into the air, and it lingered in from under a closed door. Nava neared and tapped lightly against the door.
“Levon, are you in there,” said Nava. He opened the door with gun pointed and ready.
“Jesus Christ,” said Nava, covering his eyes as he walked away.
“What’s the deal? Can’t a man take a shit in peace,” asked Levon. “Fuck, man.”
Nava leaned his back against the wall parallel with the opened door. “You have two minutes to finish up before I pull your ass off that seat. Don’t make me do it. Don’t you dare make me fucking do it.”
“You invaded my home,” said Levon, hollering from the bathroom. “I should be asking you to leave.”
“You have two minutes,” said Nava.
“What’s the deal,” asked Levon, closing the magazine.
“I have reason to believe that someone is gonna try to kill you, and you and I don’t need that,” said Nava. “Just hurry the fuck up. I would think a gun in your face would finish the job.”
“Hold on,” said Levon. “Almost done.”
A muffled release of air went almost undetected, but the shattering of a computer monitor brought Nava down with his hands wrapped around his weapon, aimed at the doorway.
“Don’t be breaking stuff,” muttered Levon.
A dark suit walked by with only a second of exposure. Nava shifted to the other wall, pressing his back against the strained surfaced. His gun aimed at the small stretch of wall aside of the doorway. A hole punched through the wall, sending a bullet down where Nava once was. The lieutenant returned fire, projecting an acute burst of thunder that startled Levon.
“Alright, alright,” said Levon. “I’m fucking done.”
“Hurry,” said Nava, trying hard to maintain focus on the target.
Levon stepped out of the bathroom dressed in a dirty, black guayabera and very relaxed cargo pants. Nava grabbed him and pulled as he walked closer to the doorway. With an itchy trigger finger, he peered around for an angle that would answer his lurking, nagging curiosity, but after several attempts all he could do was brave the confrontation.
Nava’s gun pointed straight down the hall, waning slightly. The suit stared, his eyes dull like the approaching reaper with weapon for execution. Rounds were fired from both directions. Nava landed with his shoulder bashing against the floorboard, he checked himself, unsure of any inflicted damage. Not a drop of blood from him, but the stalker had a different fate. A splatter of blood marked where he stood, and a kicked in door pointed in the direction to follow. Nava pushed himself off the ground and pointed the gun as if their executioner would jump out for another attempt.
“Levon,” said Nava. “We’re leaving this dump.”
“Fuck,” said Levon. “What the fuck is going on, man?”
Nava paced backwards with Levon nearby and didn’t shift from his position until a quick escape was within a few steps reach. The two raced out from the contaminated complex, and Levon followed Nava to his ride.
“I’m glad you decided not to finish him off,” said Vivian, accusingly. She leaned against the interrogation room wall. A hand wrapped around a relaxed arm as she bit her lower lip. Her dark short hair was slightly long at the front, a few strands settled with sharp tips right above her left eye. A tight forming police uniform hugged her petite frame, bending over her small bust with parted collars that exposed the pale skin and beginnings of a plain white shirt.
“Believe me,” said Nava, unfolding a chair. “I wanted to.”
“Why is that not a surprise,” she said, looking away from him. “You should’ve waited for my help. Perhaps you wouldn’t have had such a close call.”
“No thanks Viv,” he said, cupping his hands with elbows placed on top of the metallic table. “If I waited a minute longer then Levon here wouldn’t have made it.”
Levon didn’t look at any of them. He stared at the tiled floor, lost in his own thoughts.
“He seems broken,” she said. “You really think you can get anything from him.”
Nava glanced at her with a slight smile, and tapped the middle of the table, pulling for Levon’s attention. “Levon, since I saved your life, I feel that it’s only fair to ask you a few questions.”
“If that guy is after me then it would have to be because of what I know,” said Levon, leaning forward with brilliant beady eyes that shown through his dirty mug. He placed fingertips against his weathered, tainted lips and seemed a hostage of his own delusions. “They know,” said Levon. “Despite your efforts to silence the story, they know. Don’t they?”
“That’s what makes it so important that you tell me everything you know about the operation that took place at the old piping yard,” said Nava, gently.
Levon stiffened and pressed a finger against this temple. “I know you want what’s in here, but at the cost of my own life, at the cost of yours? I don’t think you understand that some things are better off left alone. Don’t tamper with something you have no business with.”
“Levon,” said Nava. “If you don’t help us then how can we help you? Don’t you want to be protected?”
“Besides we already have the whole department wanting to snuff us,” said Vivian, disregarding their only witness. She walked to the table, pressed her palms against the surface, and leaned forward. “I don’t want to work narcotics again,” she said, shaking her head. “So just spit out the fucking information.”
Nava glared at her, but redirected his focus to drilling the confused, smelly, disgusting man. “We’ll protect you,” said Nava, laying on genuine comfort. “We know you were involved with creating him.”
“Don’t go jumping to conclusions. I didn’t do anything more than help design a system that could, if used correctly, function as artificial organs, secreting huge doses of serotonin, epinephrine, endorphins and other chemicals into a host, a breakthrough that would revolutionize our current concept of medical science. If someone had this in them, their body would perform ten times more efficiently. Athletes could become the perfection they dream of. Soldiers could become the soldier their country needs them to be. I didn’t know what the company we shipped the technology would do with it. If we did, I wouldn’t have anything to do with it. But, then again, there were rumors. There was this gossip that something big, something evolutionary was in the works.”
“What company did you ship it to,” said Nava.
“Sekume, but the name of the company won’t matter. It was a front for powerful wealthy men to pool their resources together without detection. But this is really just a rumor. It probably isn’t true. But there is a name, Aidan Agamat. My associates would refer to him a number of times.”
“Agamat,” muttered Nava. “Sounds familiar.”
“He’s a financial advisor for Jackson & Pearson,” said Vivian. She parted her lips, thinking about the difficulty it would be to pin a man with such reputation as the one responsible for the monster’s manifest.
“So you shipped the technology to him,” said Nava, doubtful.
“Yes,” said Levon. “I’m telling you. You should stop now and prevent a lot of unnecessary damage from happening. The more you look into this the more difficult it will be to do anything with it.”
“Then we best keep this to ourselves,’ said Vivian, glancing at Nava. “Hopefully we won’t get pulled from the assignment.”
Nava rose from his chair and left the room with Vivian following behind. She tugged on him. “Look, I know you’re worried about finishing this, but we’ll get something.”
“Trust me. I want nothing more than to bring the asshole responsible for this to justice, but we can’t do it without doubling our efforts,” said Nava, rubbing his face with his hands.
“I could see what I could get out from those connected with the cult,” said Vivian. “It’s worth looking into.”
“Sure,” said Nava, narrowing his gaze. “Just don’t let your guard down and take someone with you just to be safe. I wouldn’t walk those alleys alone, not again anyway. You should take Darren with you.”
“What makes you think you’re going to be doing shit alone,” said Vivian.
“Don’t worry about me. I’m just gonna ask him a few questions,” said Nava.
“But what about the gunman,” asked Vivian, placing her hands on her hips. “You think you’re going to face him alone? We should hit the streets together, double our efforts that way.”
“I’ll be expecting him, so I already have the advantage,” said Nava, trying his best to sound convincing. “Besides, he’s a pathetic shot.”
“Stubborn ass,” said Vivian, shuffling her feet.
Torches set ablaze crackled hungrily in their iron fixtures, fighting the suffocating darkness with orange hues that dominated in areas of interest, leaving the corners and various portions to disappear into the darkness. A cage held high above the ground by a chain that extended up into the shadows rocked to the weight of their brave hostage. With water-rimmed eyes, Abigail sat against the bars of her tiny cage with arms wrapped around her folded legs. She feared their intent, knowing that they would surely kill her and not with a kind hand. No, her captures would treat her like all their other victims, but because of history, they would increase the glorification of her sacrifice. Horrid thoughts plagued her mind, saturating it with a heavy mess. During the intense moments, when tears of dread trailed down her cheeks, she fixated her view at her only salvation. The Bleeder, like some forgotten relic, looked weathered, battered and broken. His body, the fractured, blood stained remains of it, was stretched out between overhanging boards that housed a number of cords that snaked one another into a pit of mechanisms below.
The chamber was underground, that Abigail was certain, but the exact location she wasn’t sure of. The smell of rot penetrated the earthy, musky scent of water stained bricks and mortar, dried oak, and dust. Without much to do, all she did was set her eyes onto her once giant undefeatable guardian, trying to see beyond the shattered wielding mask that covered a ruined, mutilated face.
Three men dressed in all black entered from the side door, pacing towards the machines. Malkovak followed them. With a hand on his chin, he seemed favorable to the progress, but weary of the amount of time it would take to test it.
“Finding the parts was hard,” said the taller assistant. “But you were correct with the leads.”
“Of course, it is a rarity for our seers to mislead us,” said Malkovak, voice steady and even. “Besides, the branding on the equipment inside him could only mean one thing. How is he responding?”
“His vitals are, well, not much of anything,” said the shorter assistant.
“You can’t measure something like him, he’s a creation of our Lord,” said the taller one. “We just finished patching him up.”
“You hear that,” said Malkovak, glancing over his shoulder at Abigail. “It sounds like it is time to feed our messiah.”
The assistant pressed a few buttons and turned a few dials and blood gushed through the cords, feeding into the Bleeder’s corpse. Thin streams poured out from the patchwork, but overall the carcass contained the fluid long enough for it to absorb the needed nutrients. After a slight groan, the Bleeder clinched his right fist with bleeding fingertips.