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The Hitman’s Tale – 0.00 Prologue

The smell of meat sizzling on a hot pan wafted out of the open doorway, an inviting smell for everyone but the man stood nearby harbouring a hangover. He leant over and stroked a tabby cat who had come over to investigate the smell in the hopes of scrounging up some scraps, all the while frowning in the direction of the kitchen. The man burped quietly, his stomach’s gesture of dissatisfaction of being notified by his brain that food was being prepared in a near vicinity. Stomachs are stupid and selfish, they just assume that signs of food always indicate that it’s going to be passing its way soon, despite the rest of the body concurring that ingesting food is a terrible idea following an all-night diet of whiskey.

The man leant back against a fire escape opposite the kitchen and swigged reluctantly at the beer bottle in his hand. His hair scruffy, his clothes rumpled, shirt untucked and trouser legs trimmed with grime from the previous night, you could almost feel sorry for the cluttered trash-ridden alleyway that it was being made look even untidier by the chap loitering within it. If it could talk, the alley would probably express that the man was lowering the tone.

“Vekowski!” a voice called out. The man looked up at the summons, towards a window above. “What’re you doin’ out there?”

Mr. Vekowski nodded at the dapper suited man with the neat little moustache and raised the bottle, shaking it slightly to emphasize it.

“Hair of the dog,” he said.

“We’ve got guests,” the man in the window stated. Vekowski sighed.

“We’ve always got guests. It’s a restaurant,” he replied.

“I mean guest guests, capiche? They’re up here!” continued window man. Vekowski shrugged.

“That’s okay, let ‘em stay up there. They ain’t doing me any harm.”

“Ahhh…look, never mind, I’ll come down to you,” said the man in the window, giving up. He disappeared back inside and Vekowski was left alone to burp uncomfortably in the direction of the kitchen.

“I hate working above a restaurant,” he muttered. It was a traditional idea for a mob to operate out of a legitimate business such as an eatery, but when one of the main perks of being a mobster is being part of a glorified social club the setting doesn’t always gel with the act of being social. Vekowski had been especially social the previous night. Excessively so. Unfortunately he’d expended all his socialness and was currently feeling particularly anti-social. The mewing tabby rubbing up against his leg was about as much interaction as he could handle at the moment, another reason to hang out in the alleyway all by his lonesome.

The man from the window scuttled out of the kitchen door and over towards Vekowski.

“Fingers,” said Vekowski, acknowledging the man by his nickname. In all truth Joe kept forgetting Fingers’ real name, as everyone just called him ‘Fingers’1. Joe had always wondered if a thief were to lose their arms and had to start using their feet or mouth to steal whether they’d be called ‘Toes’ or ‘Teeth’.

“Hey Joe, guess you ain’t feelin’ too good, huh?” said Fingers. Joe shook his head and looked at the bottle in his hand.

“They call it ‘hair of the dog that bit you’. I don’t think it bit me, I think it just crapped in my mouth and my guts and ran off,” said Joe. His colleague chuckled.

“Who’d you end up out with last night?”

“Business. Couple a’ the new guys.” Fingers sucked his teeth.

“Thought you were smarter than to go drinking with Business. Guy doesn’t get drunk. Newbie trap!”

“I know that,” said Joe, “I just didn’t care last night. Felt like getting wrecked and Business always gets a bit enthusiastic with the rounds when he’s drinking with new guys.” Joe sucked from the bottle again and smacked his dry lips. “I’d just go back inside pal, I’m just going to be standing outside here feeling sorry for myself for a few hours.”

Fingers shrugged, putting his hands in his pockets. It was a habit he’d developed to reassure his fellows that his hands were where everyone could see them. Joe knew better, in fact he considered it to be worse as it meant that you couldn’t actually see Fingers’ hands, which was when you really had to worry about things going missing from your person. Fingers’ kleptomania bordered on the magical in terms of how he could snaffle things away, including how he’d manage to pinch your loose change without his hands leaving his pockets in any obvious manner.

“Let me guess,” continued Joe, “they don’t want your thieving arse anywhere near the guests in case their very important valuables go missing from their very important personages.” Fingers beamed a wide grin, exposing the slight gap in his front teeth.

“Pretty much,” he confirmed. Fingers took up leaning against the fire escape next to Joe. Joe smiled and, using a foot, nudged Fingers along so he wasn’t stood so close to him. Fingers mocked a frown at Joe.

“Doing you a favour anyway pal,” said Joe, “I’m skint.”

“I know,” said Fingers, looking at his fingernails and wiping them nonchalantly with his thumbs, “I checked your pockets earlier. You’ve never got anything on you worth stealin’.”

The two were prompted to look above them at the sudden shuffle of muffled movement above them. On the corner of the building over their heads was Big Jim’s office, the head honcho of the Dalminetti Mafia. The windows were full-length along the outside of his office, giving him the lovely view of a wall in a shitty alleyway, much like most of the views the area offered.

“It’s getting lively up there,” Joe said, celebrating the observation with another swig from his bottle.

“Probably moving around and shaking hands an’ stuff,” stated Fingers. The pair returned their glances to ground level.

“What’re the VIPs?” asked Joe, feigning curiosity and trying his best to care about anything.

“Mercenaries.”

“What? Mercs? Really?”

That surprised Joe, Big Jim was always sceptical about third-party assistance. Big Jim was big (hah!) on encouraging the mafia to “keep it in the family”, which wasn’t a literal statement given the only two Dalminettis in the organisation were him and Little Jim. What he meant was trying to internalise all the profits.

“What do we need mercs for?” asked Joe.

“For the Triads, remember?” said Fingers in the manner of a person stating the obvious, as if it had been the only current event that people were discussing. Joe returned a blank stare, prompting Fingers to elaborate more. “They’ve got their eyes on the south side since it’s prime real estate and all.”

Joe vaguely recounted two or three lesser mobsters individually discussing something similar at him, but he’d probably been distracted by…well, literally anything more interesting. A passing housefly on a nearby wall could have snagged his attention away from the thrilling day-to-day Dalminetti affairs. It was all so bloody boring.

“Right,” he said automatically, “easy access to the transport lift will help with their gun running operations I guess.” Fingers nodded, partially relieved that Joe apparently wasn’t completely ignorant of the things happening around him. He appeared to be a little distant recently, but the evening session with the Business explained that away.

“Something like that. If they tried to take turf at the skyport then they’ll have to deal with the Dragon, which they’re too smart to do, and taking turf right inside the south side will see them dealing with the Frankonis. They must think it’ll be easier to take out some of the smaller gangs with turf around the outskirts and start bleeding into Frankoni turf that way. Take a few lorry depots by gang osmosis or whatever.”

“So Big Jim wants to tell them that we’re not as small-time as they think we are by sending in a load of mercs?”

“Yeah. …Well, two of them, anyway.”

“Two?” repeated Joe in disbelief, “against the Dì sān bǎn Triads?” Fingers shrugged in response.

“All I know is that there’s only two of them up there right now. Apparently the Fixer highly recommended them. They do stuff like this all the time. Apparently.”

“Harry Kilroy2,” said Joe, stating the Fixer’s name out loud apropos of nothing. “Jesus Faust3, if we’re outsourcing our work to some Undercit shyster…you get what you pay for, I guess-”

The conversation was cut off by a muffled cry that, to Joe at least, sounded suspiciously like someone saying “the fuck” and being cut off before they could elaborate more on whatever had bothered them enough to swear in the first place. This was followed by more scuffling sounds, these ones more frantic, and the heavy thud sounds of something falling to the floor. Joe eyed the window suspiciously, hoping that perhaps one of the mercs was introducing their pet water fowl by pointing at it and loudly proclaiming it to be “the duck”. It seemed unlikely.

“Think they’re finishing upstairs,” he guessed. “Sounds like they’re moving around up there.”

“Oh good,” said Fingers, “I don’t like mercs. Cocky shits. Think they’re the bee’s knees because they’re always facing danger.”

“Still,” said Joe, “I bet if you’re being paid a big fat bag of cash to kill people you’d probably welcome a little bit of danger. Travel the world, meet new and interesting people-”

“-Kill them in new and interesting ways,” added Fingers.

“Sure, at least the conversations would be brief. And there’s the importance of coming up with a witty one-liner just before you off them, that’d keep your mind busy,” said Joe with a smirk. Despite the humorous edge, there was a twinkle in his eye and a newfound enthusiasm to his face. This didn’t get past Fingers, who frowned.

“You ain’t looking to jump ship, are you Vekowski? I can’t see you doin’ hits any time soon,” he said sceptically. “Sounds a little too dangerous for your tastes.” Joe sighed and relaxed even more against the railing behind him.

“No, you’re probably right mate. But a guy can dream, right? You never know what’ll suddenly fall into your lap-”

Something big fell past Joe and landed heavily on the ground, scaring the living daylights out of him and Fingers. If he’d not been so surprised, the irony of the thing landing at lap height might have later dawned on him. The thing unfolded itself and stood upright, coughing awkwardly. It was a man.

“You alright there?” asked Joe, bewildered. The man gave a big grin and a warm chuckle, as if he was in on a joke nobody else had been told about. An unlit cigarette sat in his mouth; he fished it out of his oral cavity with one hand and waved it at the two of them.

“Could be better, mate. Gotta light?” the man said earnestly. Joe pulled his pockets inside-out and shrugged to show that he didn’t, while Fingers produced a small silver lighter from one of his pockets and proffered it to the man, who leant forward and lit it on the flame. Joe leant in towards Fingers.

“I think Tony’s going to want that back at some point,” he murmured. Fingers elbowed him and grunted “yeah, probably”. The man took a long drag off of his cigarette, exhaled and then lifted both arms out in front of him, towards something above and behind them. Joe suddenly realised that one of the arms was entirely mechanical, a bionic prosthetic.

As if things couldn’t get weirder, a slim figure in a long brown coat fell into the man’s arms. He placed the figure down on the ground, revealing it to be a redheaded lady. She angrily eyed the lit cigarette in his mouth, removed the wide-brimmed hat from her head and slapped at the man’s head with it a couple of times before storming off down the alleyway towards the main road, cursing “idiot!” in several outbursts. The man turned back to the two men and shrugged.

“Women, am I right?” was all he could say before bursting into a loud roll of hearty laughter. Joe and Fingers just smiled dumbly, it all seemed a bit random.

“I’m sure she’ll get over it?” was all Joe could offer. The man grinned again and placed his human hand on Joe’s shoulder. Joe noted how big the hand was and tried not to look too nervous. He also noticed the prominent scar bisecting the man’s face, right across his nose. The man seemed genuine enough in his happiness, and Joe resisted letting out a squeal when the man pinched his shoulder, grip like a vice.

“Thanks, man. She usually does.” He let go and began to walk away, the walk quickly turning into a jog to catch up with the woman. He turned one last time to call to them. “You look after yourself pal, you’re looking a little rough!”

“I fuckin’ feel it!” replied Joe with a chuckle. When the man was out of sight, he added “Thanks for saying, you weird, scary one-armed motherlover.”

“The hell did they come from anyway?” said Fingers, looking behind them and up at the sheer wall face above the fire escape. Joe joined him and observed that one of the drainpipes was bent at a forty-five degree angle, pulled from its joist.

“Oi, you two!” a voice called out. It came from Big Jim’s office window on the opposite building, where the window was now swinging open. Looking up, Fingers and Joe saw the familiar thick-framed spectacles of Alfie ‘the Business’ Cartwright leaning out.

“Alfie!” Joe called out in recognition.

“Did you two pair of bleedin’ numpties see two arseholes run past? Only the mercs ‘ave scarpered after offin’ Big Jim an’ a load of the boys up here!”

Joe and Fingers looked at each other, and then down the alleyway where the man and the woman had made their exit. The sound of a car revving its engine heavily growled a street away and a car suddenly drove past on the main road at top speed.

“Ohh shiiit!” cried Joe and Fingers, both legging it down the alleyway after the mercs. It wasn’t any good, by the time they reached the main road the car was a blip on the horizon. Joe angrily wheeled around on his feet and threw his empty beer bottle at a nearby wall, smashing it to pieces.

“If the guys ask, we didn’t see nuthin’,” said Fingers as more of the mafia ran down the alleyway to join them.

“Double negative mate, dead giveaway,” said Joe, deflated. They would probably get their arses chewed out for this cock up, and all he had wanted to do was have a nice quiet day to himself. This gangster bullshit was too much hassle. He’d almost wished the mercs had taken out more of the mafia so he’d have an excuse not to carry on.

“A guy can dream…” he said under his breath, walking to meet the other mobsters angrily waving and pointing.

Joe did not realise that his dreams would come true in a matter of weeks. He desired a life on the road, to be a hired gun thrown into dangerous situations armed only with his wits and his guns. On Lusinia, if you have the money and the need, you can hire a rogue with the right skills to expertly take out your enemies – a hitman.

Joe Vekowski will become a hitman. This is his story.

The Hitman's Tale


  1. It’s an unwritten rule that every organised crime group bigger than four requires a guy with a light touch and dexterous hands who goes by the name “Fingers”. The same also applies for army regiments consisting of eccentrics, rogues and vagabonds, but in this latter case you’re only allowed to have someone called “Fingers” in the group once you’ve established that there’s a clever guy who can go by the name of “Brains”.
  2. Harry ‘the Fixer’ Kilroy is a squat, greasy little man who runs a very successful job agency out of his shack in Undercit, the shanty town underneath the City of Light. Specifically, the kind of jobs he organises people for are ones that are dirty, illegal and cash-in-hand, because it’s a highly competitive field and some professional criminals need a reliable source of jobs that provide a non-traceable form of currency.
  3. Due to a series of historical contrivances, it’s popularly believed that Dr. Faustus Christ was the son of an almighty deity. Some variations of the story say that he had an amazing Technicolor coat that he found after wandering the desert for forty years, following a exile after losing all his strength to a particularly bad haircut.
 

Post by | February 11, 2014 at 6:00 pm | The Hitman's Tale | No comment

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