We left the restaurant together, and took a right. Off to the left, just as I’d predicted, were the two men Lenny had been talking to, their bodies riddled with bullets, and their blood seeping down through the wooden sidewalk and onto the dirt road below. I don’t usually mind when thugs like that get cut down, it saves the taxpayers the hassle of paying for a trial, but I had to feel bad for the two men. Their last day had to have been hell, having been Marked by the Crimson Makos.
No one knew who ran the gang that called themselves the Crimson Makos. Anyone who tried to find out ended up dead within a couple hours. They were a tightly knit group, where everyone knew everyone else. Hell, cops didn’t even know how people even became members of the gang, their initiation was so veiled in mystery and death that no undercover had ever managed to get through.
Primarily, the Makos were a bunch of thugs. They would mark their territories with spray paint in the same way that dogs marked trees. They were responsible for most of the petty theft in the city, and they ran a bunch of ‘protection’ rackets with local businesses that fell within their territory. The business owners paid the Makos every month to protect their store, and in return the Makos wouldn’t burn it to the ground. It worked out fairly well for the Makos. They got paid a ton of money, and only had to make an example of someone once or twice a year. In return, the business owners ended up paying so much to keep their businesses open that they couldn’t afford to move away. It provided the Makos with a constant supply of income.
What they were most famous for, however, were their killings. The Makos tried not to kill anyone who wasn’t ‘Marked’, but mistakes happened. Somehow they would mark their target with three dots on the back of the neck, the symbol of the gang. Twenty-four hours later, the Marked target would be killed. Didn’t matter where they were. People had tried to hide in jail cells, protective custody, in the hideouts of rival gangs, or even cities away. But inevitably, they all died, from a bullet, at almost exactly the twenty-four hour mark. I couldn’t think of anyone who had gotten away from them.
Lenny had begun to drift away from me as I thought about the Makos, so I grabbed his arm and pulled him back. “Hey!” He complained, “Lenny wasn’t going anywhere!”
“Of course he wasn’t.” I told him calmly. “That would have hurt my feelings, and I know Lenny doesn’t want to hurt my feelings.” I tightened my grip briefly on Lenny’s arm before letting him go again.
“Nope! Lenny definitely doesn’t want to hurt Jake’s feelings. No way, no how. Hey look! Lenny knows this neighborhood. It’s where he grew up. Did you know Lenny has a loving mother who is worried about him?”
“Lenny’s mother is in prison.” I said, cutting him off. “Lenny put her there himself just so that he didn’t have to go to jail. And last I heard, his mother was sharpening a very special spoon just for him.”
Lenny gulped audibly. “Ahh.” He said. “Lenny sees. So what does Jake need to talk to Lenny about?”
We stopped in a small, decrepit, park. The whole neighborhood had an empty feeling to it, even though there were people around. It just didn’t seem like they cared about anything, like where they were going, or what was around them. I suppressed a shudder. It was almost as if those radio programs, where the whole world is filled with mindless zombies, had been recorded here. Putting my discomfort aside I looked at Lenny and told him, “You hear a lot of things Lenny. I need you to tell me about one of them.”
“Lenny heard that John Rider sleeps in a dress at night.” He said promptly. “Can I go now?”
“He sleeps in a dress?” I asked in surprise. “Never mind, don’t answer that.” I shook my head to get the image out, and had to suppress a smile. “No, what I want you to tell me is about a delivery truck.”
“Hey, Lenny had nothing to do with that radio heist. He doesn’t know nothing about a hundred clock radios that might be stashed in a building nearby.”
“Interesting,” I told him, “But also irrelevant. Also, just so you know, saying you ‘don’t know nothing’, actually means you know something.”
“Huh?” He asked in a confused tone.
“Don’t worry about it.” I told him. “But no, I don’t care about the radio truck. I want to know about a specific truck.”
“Well out with it!” Lenny demanded. “The longer Lenny spends around you, the more people are going to wonder who Lenny is talking to.”
“That’s better.” I said. “A couple weeks ago, on June 5th, a truck coming up from the rain forest entered town carrying a small black stone called the Moonstone. I think you know something about it.”
“Moonstone?” Lenny asked me, tilting his head to the side. “Nope, Lenny doesn’t know nothing about a Moonstone. But if it’s rocks you’re after, Lenny heard that Stinky Pam has a fresh load of diamonds that she’s looking to unload.”
“You’re lying Lenny.” I told him in a gruff voice. “You have a nervous tic when you lie. Gives you away every time.”
“What?” Lenny demanded. “Lenny does not have a tic! No one knows when Lenny is… Holy crap! Look at the rack on that one!”
I knew it was a mistake the moment my head began to turn, and I instantly started to correct myself. But it was surprise, more than anything, that allowed Lenny to land a solid sucker punch to my jaw. I figured he was about to run, but the punch came out of nowhere. Lenny was never exactly a physical guy, unless the rules had changed.
The sucker punch didn’t have enough mass behind it to put me down, but Lenny hadn’t wasted any time. The instant he hit me he took off running, and was a good fifteen feet away before I realized what had happened.
With an oath I took off after Lenny. “Not smart, Lenny.” I growled to myself. “Not smart at all.”
My morning ritual of running for five miles was set against Lenny’s knowledge of his home ground. This actually was, in fact, the neighborhood where he grew up, and he used the terrain as a huge advantage. Every time I was about to catch up to him he’d juke to the left or right, and throw a trash can or person in my path, forcing me to slow down as I either jumped over, or dodged around, anything he threw.
A six foot wooden fence stood in Lenny’s way as he ran from me, but instead of slowing down he only ran harder. I watched in shock as he jumped straight into the fence, rather than go over it. The section of fence he hit spun as if on a post, revealing a hidden bolt hole that I doubt I’d have noticed if I hadn’t seen him go through it. Without thinking I jumped into the exact same spot. While airborne I distinctly heard a click of a lock being engaged. I had just enough time to swear before I crashed into the now solid fence. I slammed into it headfirst, my arms protecting my skull from too much damage, then fell to the ground. Grumbling to myself, I stood up, grabbed the top of the fence, and half jumped, half pulled, myself over the top, just in time to see Lenny dodge to the right around a corner.
I hit the ground running, drawing my gun out of the holster on my chest. I pointed the gun down as I ran, and flicked off the safety. I was done playing this game, and I knew far too many cops who had died because their safety was on. My extra instinct, whatever it is, screamed at me as I approached the corner, telling me someone was waiting just around it, so I dropped into a baseball slide as I went by. Lenny swung a piece of two by four at the space my head should have been, his eyes wide with shock as he saw me slide underneath.
I’ll give him credit though. The slimy little bastard dropped the board almost instantly and was off and running again while I was still trying to stand up. “Lenny!” I yelled out, raising my gun. “Hold it right there!”
Lenny, of course, didn’t listen. Instead he ducked into another side alley and disappeared from my view. Swearing again I took off running after him. I hit the alley hard on his heels, having closed the distance to a mere ten feet.
A ten foot tall chain link fence stood halfway through the alley, blocking the exit. A hole too small for even Lenny to climb into stood at about chest level. Without even the slightest hesitation, Lenny jumped up onto the fence and began climbing it like a freaking squirrel. By the time I got to the fence itself, he was dropping down on the other side.
I slammed my free arm through the hole in the fence and grabbed Lenny by the shirt before he could gain any momentum. I pulled him back against the fence, earning a few scrapes on my arm where the exposed wires opened my flesh. He slammed against the fence with a satisfying grunt of discomfort. He spun around to grab at my arm, twisting his shirt in the process, and I placed my gun to his forehead. Lenny stopped moving.
“Hi Lenny.” I said calmly, catching my breath. “I’m not too happy with you right now, so I suggest you do exactly what I say.”
Lenny swallowed carefully, raising his hands above his head slowly. “Okay. You got him. Lenny won’t run again.”
“Bullshit.” I told him. “You’ll run the first chance you get. So you aren’t getting that chance, got it?”
“Lenny understands.” He replied, his eyes wide and his legs trembling a bit.
“Good.” I said. “Now, you were about to tell me about the stolen truck.”
“Right.” Lenny stammered, his eyes darting around the dark alley. “The truck. Yep, Lenny doesn’t know anything about it.”
I growled and pulled him closer to the fence, pushing the gun so hard against his head that it tilted his neck back, and left a circular indent in his forehead. “I’m sorry, I don’t think I heard you right.”
He shuddered, and I caught the distinct sharp smell of urine. “They’ll kill me if I say anything.” He said, suddenly dropping the third person act.
I grunted in surprise. I didn’t know he still knew how to think of himself that way. “Who will?” I demanded.
He licked his lips nervously as his pant leg grew darker with dampness. “Look. You didn’t hear it from Lenny, okay?”
“Sure.” I told him. “Never heard of the guy.”
Lenny tried to nod, but the gun made the motion difficult. “Okay. Suppose it doesn’t matter anyway. There’s a new gang in town. No one knows where they came from, but they’re Powerful. With a capital P.” He told me, returning to his usual demeanor.
“I haven’t heard anything about a new gang.” I told him, carefully releasing some of the pressure on his shirt so that he could breathe better.
“You wouldn’t have.” He told me in a surprisingly honest sounding voice. “They kill everyone. No warnings, no markings. Just slice, slice, snap, stab, dead.”
“They knife their victims?” I asked horrified.
“Every time.” He confirmed. “Lenny don’t think any of them own guns.”
“So this new gang, they’re the ones who hit the delivery truck?”
“Lenny didn’t say that!” He declared, looking around.
I squinted my eyes at him. He was right, he didn’t say that. But at the same time, I’m pretty sure that was as close as I could get him to say it. “Alright. You didn’t say that. But you’re holding out on me Lenny.”
He swallowed again nervously, but his eyes were calmer. Somehow, that didn’t sit right. “What could Lenny possibly be leaving out?”
“Their name, Lenny. What’s the name of the new gang?”
He licked his lips again, but this time it looked like he was covering up a smile. “You never heard it from Lenny, Jake Malone.” He emphasized my name clearly and loudly. “But Lenny’s heard that they call themselves ‘The Natives’.”
I pushed Lenny away from the fence, letting go of his shirt. “There,” I said disgusted. “Was that so difficult?”
“Nope.” He said calmly, stepping away. “Lenny never has difficulty speaking to dead men.”
My gun was halfway to the holster as he said it, but instead of pulling it back out, I simply holstered it and glared at him. “Seriously, Lenny? You’re going to threaten me?”
“Lenny didn’t threaten nobody.” He said with a smile.
“Then what did you mean?” I demanded.
Lenny waved his hands around him as if he were a painter showing off his recent creations. “You’re on the wrong side of the fence, Jake Malone.” He said, once again emphasizing my name.
A cold chill ran down my spine as I began to take notice of my surroundings. As I did so, Lenny took off running again. But he was forgotten from my mind. All around me were spray painted markings. Three red dots, in the shape of a triangle, were painted onto almost every visible surface.
‘No wonder Lenny was suddenly so free in talking to me.’ I thought with horror. Sounds began to echo through the alley. A footstep here, a whispered voice there, but never a body to show where it came from. And my sixth sense insisted that no one was anywhere near me. It was almost as if I was surrounded by ghosts. I tried to back calmly out of the alley, but the truth was I was just far too scared to care about stealth. I was alone, in gang territory, with only six bullets. Even if I killed some of them, I’d never get enough.
I turned and ran back towards the relative safety of the city, charging like a bull towards a matador. As soon as I started to run the entire alley, possibly even the entire neighborhood, suddenly broke out in sound. Yells, laughs, screams, and the drumming of feet on wood, dirt, and carpet. The sound was so loud it almost had its own physical presence, pushing against me as I stumbled away.
I ran for five minutes, the noise never letting up, and no sign of the source ever coming forth. I took lefts and rights at random intervals, mindless panic forcing its way past rational thought in my brain. I ran like a deer from a hunter, like a rabbit from a fox.
Suddenly I could see a safer portion of town, where the gang symbols ended and cobblestone began. As soon as I saw it the sounds stopped. The sudden lack of sound was so abrupt that my feet stumbled in their stride. But I didn’t fall, and I didn’t stop running.
Two steps away from the light of the main road, I felt something slap me in the back of the neck. That time, I did fall. One of my feet missed a step as I jerked up in surprise, and I fell to the ground, rolling out of the dark alley and into the sun bleached street. From the corner of my eye I saw something that glinted in the sunlight get pulled back into the alley. It looked like three needles, their tips turned red as if dipped in blood, were being pulled on an almost invisible string. Soon they were lost from sight.
As I lay there in the street, staring at the alley, people began to ask if I needed any help. ‘Boy do I.’ I thought to myself. I got to my feet, pulling the collar of my jacket up over my neck, despite the late day heat. I couldn’t feel it. All I could feel was the cold chill that went through my entire body.
‘I’ve been Marked.’