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 Post subject: Soldiers of Misfortune
PostPosted: Thu Jul 03, 2008 12:44 am 
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Location: Somewhere in the CAS
Chapter 1: Coming Home

The Crown thrives by dint of its massive military. How eager they are to sink their bloody hooks in you, to fight for Queen and Country in some far off land to secure “national interests”. And they hook you good, they do.

I was but a wee lad by the time I knew I wanted to join. My Da had fought in the Big One, the Pacific War, back in his day. I had wanted to be just like him. Something happened though, as somethings are wont to do.

My Da killed himself on April 11th, 1970. I wasn’t home, I didn’t find him; hell, I didn’t even have a bloody clue as to why for ten more years. But by then it was too late. Not only was the Royal British Army the only thing I could think about, it was my only escape.

I’d like to say that up until then we lived well, but I know that we really didn’t. I’d like to say that up until then, we all loved each other like a family should, but I know that wasn’t true either. These are childhood memories, tainted by a child’s innocence.

After da offed himself, it was me and my ma and my sister Eileen living in a box in Huyton. Ma tried her best to take care of us, but she wasn’t very good at working in the factories nearby or in any of the stores further away. Da had killed himself, so his pension had stopped coming. This didn’t leave much else for Ma to do. Of course, we didn’t know at the time the bread she brought home was earned from bearing other men’s weight throughout the night.

A couple of years later I found out the truth. It was, as these sorts of revelations are often made, in the company of other young men of my age who began to tease me mercilessly about my Ma, the whore. I took a good beating, but gave just as well that day. One of the boys left the field with less than half of his right ear left on his head. I spat the rest out as I watched he and his two friends skulk away with glances threatening a beating to come.

Someone had been watching me during that fight. I hadn’t known it at the time, but an old friend of my Da’s from the Royal Irish Rangers had been keeping an eye on me. He followed me on my long walk home that night, limping and bruised but triumphant against superior numbers. I never once noticed him.

When I got home that night, a new fellow had taken up residence with Ma and Eileen and me. He was obviously a drunk, and he dressed much better than anyone I’d seen in Huyton even in their Sunday best in some time. He told me he was there to take care of my Ma, and by extension we wee ones as well. His name was Pete Holcroft.

He was basically Ma’s pimp from then on, and not a kind one at that. Eileen and I learned quickly to heed his words else his belt would find us. He beat Ma on the occasion she held out a farthing from him. How I hated the man. He was one more reason to dream of leaving what my life had become, and one more reason to never want to return.

Archibald Lector was my benefactor, my savior. My Da’s old chum, he decided to make himself known about then. Over the course of the next year, he and I became friends once he made his introductions. He regaled me with tales of glory from The Big One, and of him and my Da’s partnership during those times. I ran minor errands for him in exchange for these stories.

His stories filled my head with ideas of glory and heroism, and of the honour and bravery of the Royal Irish Rangers. So I pushed myself from then on to feats of physical endurance and strength, honing my body with one goal in mind; to become myself a Royal Irish Ranger. He saw what I was doing, and encouraged it. He also encouraged my growing distance from my Ma and Eileen, and from Pete Holcroft.

By the time I was eighteen, I was ready. I immediately applied to the Royal British Army, in hopes of joining the Royal Irish Rangers. I left my home in Huyton, my Ma, my sister, my abusive common-law stepfather and even Archibald Lector. I was ready to become a man, to serve Queen and Country, and more than anything else, to escape from my home.

It was two years before I found myself in the unit I had longed to join. My Ranger training lasted eight long months, and almost immediately I was deployed to Korea in an operation which was highly secretive and completely deniable. I killed my first man there, at 500 metres. That definitely takes the sting out of it, I’ll tell you.

Five years later, with numerous decorations, sniper qualifications beyond any that had come before me, and more mission objectives completed than I have fingers to count, I found myself on a leave. A leave which I had been told I could return home to attend my Ma’s funeral.

I cut a fine sight in my dress uniform that day, or so everyone told me. Eileen cried on my shoulder. Pete Holcroft was there, but he had a strange hollow look in his eyes. Had he truly loved my Ma, even as he had whored her out nightly and beat her when she had spent “his” money on toys for Eileen or a new shirt for me? I left the funeral with little to be said.

I had wanted better for Eileen, but I learned on my leave she had left home over a year before and had begun work in a factory. She could care for herself. Besides which, I had my duty to perform.

I gave her a place to write me, and at first the letters came weekly. They taught me of the woman she was becoming, and in return I revealed very little to her of the man I had become. They slowed to monthly, as I knew they would; she had her own life to lead, and hers was not to worry for me for I was protecting her and everyone in our great Empire.

I never thought of it any other way. At least, not until that fateful day when finally there was a mission in which everything did not go as was planned. The mission cost the lives of several of the friends I had made, good men devoted to their country. The survivors, I among them, found that it cost their freedom when we were imprisoned by Portuguese forces for a brief time before our rescue. And it cost me my arm.

I was laid up in a Royal Army Hospital in North Africa for almost a year, healing from my injuries at the hands of the Portuguese and learning to cope with my loss. I was told I’d receive a cybernaughtic replacement for my arm, which spurred hopeful thoughts of returning to duty. It took me almost as long to learn to use that mechanical dreadnought of an arm with four hinged joints as what passed for fingers once it was attached.

But no return to duty was given to me. Instead, I received in a brief ceremony an honourable discharge from the Royal British Army, my new replacement arm, and a pension. The pension was rather generous for a Royal Irish Ranger, and no sooner was I notified of its extent was I certain that this was hush money from the powers that be.

They’ll hook you good, they will. And once those hooks get in you, they’ll use you till you are no more use to them. They’ll use you until you know too much about the way they operate. And then they discard you like a broken toy.

I met my friends Ambrose Lewis of the 4th Mechanized Division of the Royal British Army, Meriwether Thomas of the Corp of Royal Engineers, and Winsel Pande of the Brigade of Gurkhas, in the RA Hospital. Ambrose had lost his legs in the field when his commanding officer had ordered him to run their transport through what had been a minefield at one time in Korea; apparently, not all of the mines had been found after all. Meri had crushed both of his hands in an engineering accident; he only ever told us that it had been in an effort to play a practical joke on one of his commanders that he’d placed himself in such jeopardy in the first place. Winsel had lost his eyes from shrapnel when Indian terrorists had tried to blow up the Colonel he had been protecting as part of a guard detail.

We spent a lot of time together, musing over our collective experiences and our newfound sense of abandonment. The others often reminisced fondly of home, and had much to say whereas I rarely contributed. They were all very curious, from the day we met all the way to our shared boat ride home, as to why I had no real desire to return home.

I never told them the truth.

We stood on the docks of the Mersey on that cold and wet November day of 1984 as we arrived in The Great Metropolis, soldiers tossed aside, and bid one another a fond farewell, swearing to meet up again and knowing deep inside that we probably wouldn’t. I shouldered my rucksack, and prepared for my long walk home.

None of us knew then what fate, cruel mistress she is, had in store for us.


Last edited by maded on Wed Jul 09, 2008 11:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Chapter 2: Any Dark Alley Will Do
PostPosted: Wed Jul 09, 2008 11:36 pm 
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The first thing I thought of once I had arrived back in the Great Metropolis was securing a roof over my head. Then the changes I began to notice in the place I had spent eighteen years of my life sank in. Once I had stepped past the Wall around the Great Docklands, I was struck by how much it had changed in the ten years which I had been gone. The tangle of streets and alleys which had once been Huyton were no longer the same tangle.

It had been after sunset that our ship had arrived at the docks. I remembered well the manner of men and women who haunted the streets of Huyton after dark. But I was no longer a child; years of combat training had tempered me into the man I had become and fear was no longer an option. If anything, my temper had been rising since the landing, and I had almost been looking forward to some sort of confrontation.

As I finally came across the block of flats where I had grown up, I found they had been torn down to accommodate a new sort of tenement. A flat grey, nondescript building of some twenty stories greeted my sight. The lower floor was an open courtyard; a gang of dirty children hooted and jeered at one another, amidst a rather rough footie game. I couldn't even tell which child was on which team.

I walked into the courtyard towards the standing waterpipe in its center. The children scattered, with shouts about the ongoing game or supper or my Army uniform. I grabbed one filthy child by his torn collar before he could escape, gripping him tightly with the clamps of my cybernaughtic hand.

“Where's the block manager, then, boy?” I asked, my voice raspy in my parched state.

He writhed in my grasp, staring at the metallic clamps clutching his shirt collar with an open mouth.

“Ah, Mister! The boss-man's up on the second floor! Please, let me go!” he shouted his reply, with horrified fascination in his eyes.

I nodded and let loose his shirt, proceeding to examine my choice between a stairwell that reeked of piss and gin, or a rather rickety looking pneumatic elevator. Braving the stench, I proceeded up the stairs. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a few of the children watching me as I closed the stairwell door behind me.

I made the landing of the second floor in leaps and bounds when the stench began to make my eyes water. The door to my right had a large glass pane in it, and the word “Manager” was stenciled upon the yellowed glass. There was a light on in the room, but the door was locked. I rapped upon the wooden frame.

“Get outta here! Closed!” came a shout from within, punctuated by a wracking cough.

“I need a flat, mate,” I shouted back, and bent to shove several twenty pound notes under the door.

The shadow of a man appeared in the yellowed glass, and the rattle of chains followed. The frumpy man with the bulging belly and stained suit who opened the door seemed a little less displeased with me for interrupting his nightly vigil as his eyes greedily counted the notes I had pushed in to him.

“Yes, yes, come in, come in,” he said.

I knew instantly he'd be giving me a rate for my room that was surely well above what it actually rented for.

“The extra's for keeping quiet about me being here,” I said to him, uncertain of why I felt the sudden need for anonymity.

“Sure, Mister, ah?”

“Jones will be fine,” I told him.

His eyes moved to the Harp and Crown on my uniform sleeve. My name tag I had removed before landing.

“Army, eh?”

I merely nodded my reply.

“Well, this will certainly be enough for a few weeks,” his greedy eyes followed up from the Royal Irish Ranger patch, to my rank insignia, “Sergeant 'Jones'.”

“I would think it would be safe to say that would cover two months, with a little left over for your silence,” I responded with my most authoritative voice, “and I will take a quiet room with a window and a sturdy fire escape, somewhere near the middle floors if you please.”

He nodded heartily, pocketed some of the notes I had given him, and placed the rest in a lock box which had been sitting upon the desk. He then turned to a rack of keys, searching, and found one to proffer to me. The key was labeled “919”.

“Thanks. Is there anywhere decent to get a pint around here anymore?” I asked, pocketing the key.

“You could try Dublin's Delight, Sergeant,” he replied with another glance at my Ranger patch, “A lot of fellows like you there. Not much in the way of mobsters, either. But some Easies like to hang around close to there. Better watch them. They like to roll some poor veterans for their pension cheques, they do.”

“Easies?”

“Buncha hoodlums from Manchester, whose da's run shops and the like. They like to come here and pretend to be gangsters, do odd jobs for the mob.”

I nodded, shouldered my bag and turned to the door.

“You going to sign the books for me?”

“No,” I replied simply.

He didn't press the issue.

From there I went up to room 919 by way of the rickety elevator, fitted my key in the door and found it to be working, and went into the flat. It was a tiny room, with barely enough room for a bed and a small stove. The shower would be communal, then, so I decided I would wait a bit for that. With no shelves or closets, I pushed my duffel under the bed after laying out some clothes to change into.

I decided to leave my leather jacket on before I headed out for Dublin's Delight. The Irish Army Rangers patches on each shoulder stood out. The manager had said something about fellows like me there, so I was thinking I might be able to find someone to talk to.

I secured my pound notes with a clip on the inside left pocket of my jacket, and placed the roll of coin in my right outer pocket, then opened my flat door and stepped out. I quickly locked the door and examined the hallway. No one was there.

I stepped onto the road from the tenement, my trained eyes still working in a wartime mode to assess any threats. The ragged children were gone from the courtyard, and the dim light of street lamps barely lit the path ahead. There was no one within sight.

On the alert, I was hardly surprised when trouble reared its head barely a block from Dublin's Delight.

There were three of them stepping forth from the alley to my left. They were high on something; I wouldn't know what it was until after I did to them what they intended to do to me. They were dressed in working class clothes, but they were a little too clean. Their nails didn't have any dirt under them.
One was swirling something lazily about that I'd only seen once, while I had been on leave in Korea, a pair of nunchaku; the second was fingering the hilt of a large knife stuck in his belt; the third drew a beaten-looking pepperbox pistol and waved it in my direction.

“Lookit what we got here, boys!” the fellow with the pistol said, taking an unsteady aim on me.

I raised my hands to show I was no threat, and let a small, tight smile cross my face.

“Here now, lads, there's no need for trouble. I'm just a fellow on my way for a drink. You know the pub Dublin's Delight?”

Looking back on that night now, I realize that something in me was spoiling for a fight. I'd been wound up since the day they'd told me I was to be discharged from the Army. I had thought then I really was just trying to avoid confrontation, though.

“Well it seems to me you've run right smack into some trouble that you can't just walk away from, eh?” the gunman sneered.

The gun boy pressed closer, and the nunchaku boy's weapon began to move in more deliberate patterns as his eyes flashed wolfishly, waiting for his leader's go ahead. Knife boy wrapped his fingers around his knife's hilt with a grin spreading across his face.

“You got a cheque on you, eh? Pensioner, are you? Or maybe you got a fat wad o' notes, just cashed it today? What say you just hand it over and we'll call it a night, no more trouble, eh?”

I remained stationary, hands raised, waiting. He moved close enough to press the barrels of the pepperbox to my temple, caressing me with the gun. I reached one hand to my inside left jacket pocket.

Gun boy's trigger finger tensed.

“No monkey business, now, eh?”

I smiled, as meek and eager to be left alone in appearance as I could muster. My fingers withdrew my money clip. The roll of notes drew his eyes, which widened.

“Oh, yes,” he said, licking his lips.

With a flick of my wrist, I launched the clip and the notes past him, to the ground between himself and his companions. His eyes followed the notes, as I had expected. My right, meat hand reached up to grasp his wrist and pull his gun out of line with my head. He was quick, but not quite quick enough to evade my left, the metal arm, coming up to smash hard into his elbow and shatter it.

The pistol clattered to the pavement, and gun boy fell to his knees clutching himself, everything but his agony forgotten for the moment. Knife boy wore a look of shock on his face, and his eyes were fixed upon my arm of metal. Nunchaku boy reacted much more quickly than I had expected, whirling his nunchuck at my face and snapping a roundhouse kick off of his back heel after I dodged away from the length of wood. His foot caught me in the chest, driving me backwards.

Another such kick landed on my face, blackening my eye and splitting my lip. As I rose groggily to my feet, I knew I had ten years on him, he was quicker, and while I had been trained in the rudiments of hand-to-hand combat in Ranger school, I had always been more of a marksman and sniper. Unless I came up with something fast, he would beat me to a bloody pulp.

Back then, I always underestimated the edge that having a metal arm gave me. I don't do that very often anymore. His third kick in the flurry snapped towards the left side of my face, and I lifted my left arm instinctively to protect myself. His foot connected solidly with my metal forearm with a sickening crunch, and his weight after the leaping kick began to pull him to the ground. I snaked out my left arm and grabbed his ankle, the clamps digging into flesh and grinding bone. He screamed, once, before I slammed him to the ground. His head hit first, with a dull thunk. The way in which his head lolled as his body smacked noisily to the pavement told me that his neck was broken.

Knife boy let out a roar, rushing towards me with his knife raised. At the same time, I saw gun boy raising the pepperbox with his good arm and taking an unsteady aim upon me. I shifted then, and knife boy shifted to follow me. He shifted right into the path of the bullets which gun boy unleashed. The force of the bullets drove him forward towards me even as I saw the life leave his eyes. I gripped his arms to lift him up and hold him steady while gun boy unleashed three more rounds.

Gun boy's pepperbox clicked empty. Letting go of knife boy to slide to the ground, I twisted the knife from his dead fingers. Gun boy moaned as he tried to steady the pepperbox between his knees to reload the chambers with shaky fingers. I hefted the knife, flipping it in my grasp to hold the point, and threw it at the boy with the shattered arm.

The knifepoint struck in between his eyes, crunching through the bone of his skull with brutal force, and slid deep into his brain. He fell back, limp in death's embrace.

I gasped in air, adrenaline still pumping and heart hammering wildly. To my right came the sound of clapping hands. My body tensed, sensing further conflict.
The man who stepped from the shadows had a beautiful woman on either arm.

“Well done, old boy. I've never quite seen anything like it! Those Easies had it coming though, poaching on our territory like they've been.”

He stepped in, eying the dead men distastefully. The two women covered their eyes at the sight of the bodies.

“Allow me to introduce myself,” he said as he stepped into the dim light of the street lamps.

He didn't have to, though. Even as he said his name, my heart had already stopped with my recognition of him. Everyone who had grown up in Huyton knew Liam Gallagher. He was one of the lead figures in the Irish mob which formed the gentry of Huyton. He didn't look much different ten years after the time I had first seen him, running errands around the neighborhood as a boy. His hair had grayed at the temples, lending a bit more steel to his gaze. Yet his smile, just as ten years ago, was warm and friendly.

Even more surprising, as I attempted to stammer out a greeting to him, he knew my name already as well.

“Robb Kendall, good to see you back home boy,” he said as he gripped my right hand with his own firmly, “A shame about your poor mother, a good woman she was. Have you seen your sister yet, then?”

“No, no sir. I haven't. Just stepping out for a bit of a drink, my first night home...”

“Well I heard the commotion and had to see what it was all about. You're alright then, lad?”

I could only nod.

He reached into his coat pocket and took out a money clip. It held a generous roll of notes, and a calling card.

“Anything you need, Robb, you can call on me. Your father, bless his soul, was a good man. Saved my little brother's life back in the Pacific, you know. Anything at all.”

I nodded my thanks silently.

He winked, then glanced to the generous cleavage of each of his companions.

“I suppose I should be on my way, then. The ladies wanted a bit more genteel entertainment tonight. Have a good night, lad.”

With that, the trio turned and strode away.

Shakily, I lifted each of the dead young men's bankrolls, and took their weapons. They had little else of interest upon their persons. And from there, I headed to Dublin's Delight. I needed a drink badly.

And that was the very beginnings of how I made my way into the Irish mob of Huyton.


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 Post subject: Chapter 3: The Russian
PostPosted: Sun Jul 13, 2008 8:50 am 
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At first glance, I knew he was a hard man. I've seen hard men, in the Royal Irish Rangers, in the Gurkha Brigade, and in the other British armed forces divisions I've worked with in my ten years of service. I've opposed hard men in the service of other countries; the Portuguese almost broke me. I've killed hard men.

Something about The Russian was harder than anything I had ever seen in a man, past or present. There's something about the way a man's eyes look when they are stone, unmoving, uncaring of anything, and The Russian's eyes were definitely stony. It got my hackles up, that's for sure.

Nobody knew his name. He had taken over O'Toole's Pawn in the old neighborhood whilst I had been gone to Korea, and had never changed the sign in the eight years since. He lived in the little flat above the shop, which no one had entered since Jon O'Toole had skipped town. Some said even the mob was afraid of The Russian.

Of course, I didn't know all of this the day after I had come home. All I knew was that I needed to get rid of a few things I'd picked up the night before, and that O'Toole's Pawn was still open. So I had decided to pay a visit.

I'd been in the shop as a young man several times, but upon entering that day, I only knew that something had changed. Whereas once the shelves had been lined with household goods given up in hard times for cash from neighborhood families, most now laid bare. The lighting which was once prevalent was dimmed, with only a single light illuminating the store from the back. The pastel blue of the interior walls were a dingy grey from a combination of the dim lighting and what looked like years of smoke and grime being built up.

The biggest change in the once-open layout of the shop was the huge cage in the back. And within that cage was one of the hugest men I had ever seen. Easily seven feet tall, the man was heavily muscled and wearing a sleeveless shirt with a heavy leather shop apron over it. As I approached, he glared out at me from the cage with a glint of metal from his brow.

His thick neck supported a shaven head that trickled sweat under the heat of the single lamp in the shop. The top of his head was crisscrossed with a web of scar tissue. A single large cybernaughtic eye was set into flesh that seemed perpetually on the verge of rejecting it, being an angry red in coloration. The eye itself seemed more like a camera lens, primitive in its design compared with more modern eye replacements. As I stepped closer to the cage, it rotated in its base and seemed to jut out from his face further in focusing upon me.

Behind the cage, there were a number of jewelry items hanging upon a pegboard with pricing listed. There also was a rather large shotgun, black and blocky looking, with an ugly snub barrel and a gaping maw of a bore, hanging from a thick peg by a shoulder strap. I took this particular item to be this fellow's anti-theft deterrent.

"Da?" the big man said in a thick growl as soon as I was close to the desk.

The desk itself was encased in the cage, with a small slot in the scarred glass window. I reached slowly into my jacket pocket, eying the shotgun on the wall which was within easy reach of the huge man’s grip, and pulled out the pepperbox pistol by its barrel. The big man did not flinch, nor did he reach for the shotgun.

I passed it into the small slot, and one massive hand enveloped the rickety pistol. He drew it close to examine it.

“Is piece of sh*t, street-work. I give twenty pound,” he growled after a long moment.

I nodded in response, and placed the nunchaku and several pieces of jewelry I had lifted from my assailants the night before. He took up each in turn, lifting them to his one eye and examining them closely.

“One hundred pound for it all,” he stated once finished with his examinations.

His single camera-lens eye fixed on me for a moment, awaiting my agreement to his terms. I considered for a moment haggling, and in that moment, the giant man decided something.

“You look like man who may be more, how you say, discerning? You need good gun, maybe?”

He turned to the jewelry display, fingers moving over its side. The clack of the hidden catch’s release was barely audible, and he swung the case forward on unseen hinges to reveal wall mounts behind the jewelry case holding several firearms. I knew that this particular collection of goods had never before graced O’Toole’s, and that this man must have some military connections, for several of the items in that case would not be available to any civilian.

“Now, how do you know I’m not some copper, mate?” I replied with a bit of a grin.

The big man scowled at me, then his lips spread into a large grin of his own, showing broken and discolored teeth. He lifted a cigar to his lips and lit it as he spoke.

“You are soldier, friend. Can tell. Jacket mean nothing, anybody can get patches at surplus store. See it in way you carry yourself. And in your arm, is not street-work.”

With one hand, he passed another cigar and a match through the slot to me. With the other, he waved his hand to the case.

“See anything you like?”

I did, indeed, but I was rather certain that most of them were beyond my budget. I lit the cigar he had passed me as I considered my options. A gun would be a good thing to have.

“Tell you what,” I said, my eyes fixing on two particular pieces, “I’ll take that ten gauge, and that Webley Combat Magnum.”

“You have good eye, friend! But will be more than what I could give for what you bring me.”

I shrugged, and pulled out my wallet from my jacket pocket.

“How much, friend?”

“Shotgun is old, cheap, only double barrel; could give you for fifty. But Webley is fine pistol, that worth two hundred fifty pound alone.”

“I’ll give you fifty, plus the stuff,” I replied, gesturing to the jewelry, “There’s a ring in there that is worth at least two hundred in there, real stone.”

“It seems you do indeed have a good eye, friend. If only I could market it for as much. This is pawn shop, after all.”

“You can always take it downtown to a jeweler to have it appraised and sold,” I shrugged nonchalantly.

To this, The Russian rather suddenly barked out harsh laughter, issuing forth a cloud of cigar smoke.

“You are shrewd bargainer, friend. Seventy-five pound, plus what you bring here, and you have deal.”

“Done. You going to throw in some ammo, too?”

“Da, I’ve a box for each I’ll give.”

“Oh, yeah, you gotta bag for it all, mate?”

The Russian just grinned.

I took it all back to my apartment, and carefully cleaned both guns and the ammo provided and loaded each firearm. I stowed the shotgun underneath the steel-framed cot that passed for a bed in the place, securing it within the framework. There was still a little more shopping I had to do, and I planned on finding my sister Eileen today as well.

I considered taking the Webley, but stowed it under the bed as well. In retrospect, maybe I should have taken it.


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 Post subject: Chapter 4: Finding Eileen
PostPosted: Mon Jul 14, 2008 7:59 am 
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After my time in O'Toole's Pawn, and settling in my newfound companions beneath my bed in the apartment, I set out for Saint Helens to find my sister. I held a crumpled letter in my hand, peering at the address Eileen had written. It was worn and faded with the passing of years; I could barely read it.

I came to the place which I had thought the letter was addressed from, and spoke with several of the Rainhill area's residents. None I spoke with knew of my sister, or could identify her by my description. I found the block managers for several of the apartment buildings, but my questions found no answers with them either.

After a couple hours of searching and questioning, I wandered until I found a pub to grab a drink and a bite in. The neighborhood was a bit shoddy, with several of the buildings around the pub seeming to be sinking into the ground. I went in and took my meal and drink in silence, contemplating my being unable to locate Eileen and what that might mean.

I finally finished off my meal, took another beer, and then decided I would try checking with the factory which she had said she was working for. It was quite a hike over to Stockport from Rainhill, to the Tynes Textile Mill, and it was almost quitting time for the workers there when I arrived. I decided I would stay close to the entrance of the mill and await the departing workers to exit.

This proved to be a good strategy, and eventually provided me with some of the information I needed. I was altogether displeased with what I came to learn of Eileen's fate, however.

Three of the workers I spoke with had converged upon me while I was speaking with some of their co-workers, having heard my inquiry. They all confirmed that Eileen had been relieved of her employment when it had been discovered that she was becoming less and less productive due to a fascination with what they called "tabs". I wasn't sure exactly what they were referring to, and didn't press, after they mentioned that Eileen had a female friend who still worked at the mill who might know something of her whereabouts.

I left rather quickly after learning of this, to track down this woman they called Polly. They had said she could be found in a club in Manchester called The Factory, with the day being a Friday and all. I was tired of walking, so I decided to catch a Hansom cab for the trip.

Thankfully, the cab driver had known of the location I gave him, and even gave me plenty of information on the place itself that I would be able to use once I arrived there. The most interesting piece of information I was to learn was the fact that this place was a haven for the counter-culture of Manchester. Which meant there would be a lot of young people dissatisfied with their lot in life there, and resentful towards Imperial authority; this, I was sure, meant that my leather jacket with the Royal Irish Rangers patches and rank insignia would be very, very out of place.

The Factory, I was also to learn, was a place where cutting-edge music could be found, with bands from all over the Empire, and indeed the world, performing live. This, of course, went hand in hand with the sale and usage of a variety of illegal drugs, and with that bit of conversation I came to learn more about these tabs I'd heard of earlier. 'Scope tabs could alter a user's consciousness, projecting it into an artificial reality known as the Etherscope, visitors to which could shape that reality to their liking with their force of will.

I'd heard of the 'Scope as a boy, but never had time for such frivolities as I'd had to hold down several odd jobs at once to bring food to the table of my home as well as make a few shillings to pay for the heavy usage of the local gym to hone myself into something the British army would want to enlist. I'd also heard the horror stories about how one could lose themselves in such a perfect reality, crafted by one's own thoughts and dreams, and lose touch with the real world outside of that realm. And that was certainly something that didn't appeal to me.

It must have had some deep appeal to Eileen, though, and I could hardly wonder why. Faced with the life we were forced upon as children, our father's suicide, our mother's destitution, our step-father's abuse, and then... well, and then I had left. I told myself a million times that Eileen was a tough girl, that she would get out and take care of herself just fine after I had joined the Army. I don't know if I ever truly once believed that, though. She'd only been fourteen when I had left.

There was a slight sense of guilt I had felt in leaving her to her fate, in not protecting her from life's abuse, for years after I left. The constant drilling and training and regimentation that came with joining the RIR had dulled that sense for years, until we had started writing after Mother's funeral. It came back then, briefly, but dulled yet again upon Eileen's assurance to me she had been doing just fine. But that sense was welling up again as I rode to The Factory. Had she been doing fine, really?

I must have lost myself in my thoughts for a time, for the next thing I knew, I found the Hansom cab coming to a stop and The Factory awaiting me. The cabbie smiled as I handed him a couple of fivers and told him the extra was for the information, and he slipped a calling card into my meat hand as I stepped down from the coach. I straightened my jacket, eying the place before stepping in.

The sounds of loud, pulsating music could be heard from within, and stroboscopic lights streamed from the areas of the window that weren't boarded up or painted over. It looked from the outside like some old Gothic structure from a penny dreadful, and I am sure its owners carefully cultivated that image to draw its patronage. A large African man was standing in the massive iron double doors, a red velvet rope before him. He was letting some people in without a second glance, while others were waiting in a long line.

I decided right then I didn't care for waiting in that line, and so strode up right to the man.

“End of the line,” he said to me without a second glance at me, and then lifted the rope for a beautiful young couple.

“I've not a care in the world for waiting in that line for hours on end, bucko. I'll make you a deal. I'm looking for Polly,” I said to him in as cool a tone as I could muster.

I showed him a handful of notes. He put his rope down, blocking the entrance yet again.

“I'm not sure who you mean, sir. End of the line,” he replied gruffly, indifference in his eyes.

My patience was wearing thin with this act quickly, so I moved next entirely on instinct and irritation. I reached down with my cybernaughtic arm, clamps opened wide, and gripped the African's balls firmly. His eyes grew wide. I could've crushed his jewels right then, but instead I smiled and slipped the notes in the breast pocket of his immaculate white suit.

“Don't have time or inclination to be fucked with, mate. Polly, is she in here?”

I hadn't come here with making a scene in mind, but this elitist door greeter was getting on my last nerve only a breath after my first. He nodded vigorously after a brief moment, his face pained as the clamps began to tighten upon him.

“Keep those notes, and be glad I let you keep your magairle intact as well,” I growled into his ear as I yanked the rope out of my way and walked into The Factory.

People were everywhere, dancing and drinking, moving alone or against someone, packed in so close one could hardly breathe. The music was so loud, its vibration through the building set your body to move even against your own will. I had to put a hand up over my eyes, because the strobe lights were so initially disorienting. Even the tables were packed with people, sitting alone or together, one or sometimes two or even three to a chair. Every one seemed very amused.

I could tell right away this wasn't my kind of place. So I opted to go straight away to the bar, where the bartender would surely point me in the right direction. I was right; he knew exactly who I was talking about, and pointed to a raised ramp which lead up to an area above the stage. The music and lights swirled to a sudden stop then, and a group of young men began to take the stage as I made my way up the ramp.

As I arrived at the top of the ramp, I looked upon an alcove which must have been reserved for the beautiful people. Many of them looked on coolly and rather indignantly at my presence among them as I made my way towards what could only be Polly. The fellows at the textile mill had said she was hard to miss, and they weren't far wrong with that statement.

She was tall and lean, with a dancer's body. Her long platinum blonde hair hung to her hips, and swirled in the air around her as she danced alone to music that wasn't being played yet. She wore clothing that I was not accustomed to seeing on a woman, which was not entirely unusual in this place. A short halter of black leather was cut low to expose much of her small, high bosoms and her flat, well-toned stomach. Her pleated plaid skirt hung low on her slowly gyrating hips, and barely reached mid-thigh. She wore many rings in her ears and a small diamond in her left nostril. Her eyes were painted with black kohl, closed in some reverie she shared with only herself and her dance. Her lips were full and sensual, curved into a slight smile of an amusement that perhaps no one else but she could understand.

A small light from above rested upon her for only a moment, and in that moment I realized that I found her utterly beautiful. Then her eyes opened and caught me staring. Her lips widened into a broader smile as she took in the sight of me. I could hardly help but watch as she moved closer to me.

“Don't see to many of you around here,” she said in a husky voice that tugged at me, her blue eyes sparkling.

Then the music started, and her next words were drowned by an electronic cacophony. She leaned in close enough for me to feel her lips against my ear, shouting.

“Dance with me, Soldier-Boy!”

And she grasped my cybernaughtic arm and pulled me to her. I never had, until that moment, understood how even the hardest man could lose himself in the softness of a woman. I'd never before allowed myself the weakness of doing so, never could allow myself. I'd started to tell myself I couldn't then, but the softly alluring scent of citrus that clung to her pulled my thoughts away. The feel of the soft skin of her back under my hand, and the way she began to move against me, pulled my thoughts even further away.

I was becoming distinctly warm and uncomfortable, yet not entirely uncomfortably so, when she turned her back to me and ground her backside against me, moving my hand along her side. She turned swiftly to me after a moment, a wide smile and a laugh upon her lips. She leaned in close to me.

“Mmm, and a very naughty Soldier-Boy you are!” she shouted, and darted in to playfully nibble at my ear.

I was completely unprepared for such, and the feel of her lips upon my skin was delightful and yet too much so for me to stand. I moved her a bit away with my hands, and her lips turned into a pout.

“I came here to discuss business with you, Polly!” I tried to say above the din surrounding us.

She gripped my hand, turned and drew me towards some booths, and I thought she had understood me with the flash of slight disappointment upon her face. We passed the booths, and went further back into the alcove, into a small area filled with seating. She pushed me down into a small ruby velvet couch, in an area where the music was just muted enough to hold a conversation without quite shouting.

“I wanted to play, Soldier-Boy, you disappoint me. So what can I do for you if I can't do anything to you?”

Her smile widened at my expression, which must have reddened a bit, and she crossed her long legs and leaned in towards me. I was transfixed by her crystalline eyes as she locked them to mine.

“I'm... ah, I'm looking for a girl-” I started.

“I'm a woman, Soldier-Boy, and I'm right here in front of you,” Polly purred as she lowered her eyes and raised one corner of her lips.

“Dammit, I know that much, thank you! I meant to say, I'm looking for Eileen Kendall. She's my sister,” I rushed to complete before I could be interrupted again.

At that moment, a couple was walking by us, the woman's musical laughter ringing in my ears. I recognized it, although I hadn't heard her laughter for years. Then she turned to look at the two of us, seated upon the small couch.

“Robb? Is that you?” Eileen asked me.

She was thin and drawn, and although she was dressed from head to toe, the slick-seeming rubber that encased her clung to her form.

“What are you doing here?”

“Looking for you,” I answered, rising from my seat, “What sort of mess have you gotten yourself into, Eileen?”

Eileen's eyes flashed angrily then. Polly rose, slipping something in my hand and pushing her lips to my ear.

“I'll just leave you to your family reunion. Come see me sometime, Soldier-Boy,” she whispered in my ear, then sucked my earlobe for the briefest moment, and then was gone.

“What the bloody hell do you mean, what sort of mess have I gotten myself into, Robb Kendall? I've been doing just fine without you around!” she said, her voice rising.

“Listen, Eileen,” her companion interrupted, “About the stuff-”

f*ck off, mate,” I growled to him.

His eyes widened, and he stepped back, then turned and began to walk away.

“Oh now that's just keen, Robb, you've cost me fucking money now!”

I saw she was holding in her hand a plastic bag filled with what looked to be pills, which she had been poised to hand to the man she'd been with. I began to become angry as well. I reached to grab her with my meat hand.

“Come with me, Eileen. You don't need to make your money this way. This is no life for you,” I said.

She yanked her arm from my grasp.

“Don't you think that if I am selling, someone's supplying, and they'll be damned pissed at this! Besides, what gives you the right to barge into my life after you left and take over it!”

“I'm only thinking of you, and-”

“Oh, aye, and how much were you thinking of me when you took off, all eager to join the all-mighty Imperialistic Army, to impose our way of life on other cultures! How much were you thinking of me when you left me to the tender mercies of Pete Holcroft and our dear Ma, to run off and learn how to be a babykiller!”

My passions were running as high as hers then, and I drew back my hand for only a moment at that. It was my cybernaughtic hand, and her eyes caught it and narrowed even as I stopped myself and lowered it.

“So they are done with you now, are they? Took away your life, taught you how to kill women and children, then threw you out like the garbage you'd become when you weren't any use to them any longer? How does that feel, Robb? You like being an Imperialist tool?” she said with a hateful tone.

“I've never killed any babies,” I began with a cool edge, “but yes, I've seen some things and done some things in the service of this country that you as a civilian couldn't ever begin to comprehend, let alone approve of in your limited view of how the world really works. I've killed some women, and even a couple of children, but only when they were armed and intended to kill me or my countrymen. I've killed men who were torturing, raping and murdering hundreds of their own people, and would have continued to torture rape and kill hundreds if not thousands more if something hadn't been done. I've-”

“But you never once stepped in to save ME, you bastard!” she interrupted again, her hand arcing out in a stinging slap as tears began to pour from her eyes.

“You never said anything to me-”

“Here, now, lad, you want to be stepping away from dear Eileen,” a voice came from behind me.

I turned, hands raised, as I heard the click of a pistol being cocked. A quartet of men stood behind me, all looking ready for trouble. I looked to the man with the pistol, and instantly recognized him as Vernon O'Keefe. He'd been one of the lads I'd taken a beating from many years ago, and the same lad whose ear I had bitten off.

Two of the men immediately moved to grasp my arms. Then I heard a dangerous, silky smooth yet hard-edged voice speak out.

“Is something wrong here? Eileen, did this man hurt you?”

She only sobbed, and fell into one of the couches with her hands over her face.

I knew that voice. It was Dashing Matt O'Connell; he'd once been a gofer for the Irish Mob, back when I was running errands and odd jobs in Huyton. We were about the same age. He'd always had a charming smile and an eye for the ladies.

He was dressed impeccably in a suit too expensive for this club and this crowd. He moved to Eileen's side, speaking in soft and soothing words that I could only hear the tone of. Then he stood straight up and adjusted his tie.

“Boys, remove this man from my club.”

I tried to resist, but Vernon pressed the ugly muzzle of his autopistol against my temple.

“Give me a reason, you bastard,” he said.

They dragged me down the ramp and out a back door. We passed Polly along the way, and she looked sadly on me until we were through the door and it was slammed shut behind us.

“Oh, I've waited a long time for this, Kendall,” Vernon said, “I don't think you know who you're fucking with, mate, but I aim to make sure it doesn't happen again.”

He stood back a bit, gun leveled at me, while the three others worked me over with their fists. It took them a while to beat me down, but I took the beating. Vernon's gun never wavered from its aim at my head the whole time. I didn't feel like dying just yet, and I was fairly certain they weren't out to kill me just yet.

When it was finished, I lay on the ground groaning in pain and clutching my broken ribs. I spat blood from my mouth, feeling a tooth slide from between my lips. Vernon leaned over me and spat into my face, then moved back quickly. They left me there bleeding, making their way back inside The Factory.

Fucking amateurs. They should have killed me.


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 Post subject: Chapter 5: Can't Keep A Bad Man Down
PostPosted: Tue Jul 15, 2008 12:48 am 
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I awoke, unsure of exactly how I had made it home. My head was still groggy from the beating. Rays of sunlight filtered into the room through the yellow drapes. I raised my cybernaughtic arm up over my eyes, the cool metal shielding me from the piercing sunlight. But almost as soon as I raised it, I dropped my arm.

I wasn't home. My apartment had no yellow drapes. My bed didn't have silken sheets in warm, sunny pastels. As I rose, groaning, with those silken sheets falling away from me, I also realized one other thing. I have never once in my life slept without a stitch on before.

So I stood, naked as the day I was born, looking around for something to wear, taking in the strange room and noticing that my ribs had been bound. The grating pain from my ribs was a memory, replaced by a dull ache. I tried not to move suddenly nor stretch them too far.

Then the door opened and a short, slender Oriental man entered the room. He smiled at me warmly and spoke.

"Are you feeling better yet, Mr. Kendall?" he said in perfect, unaccented English.

"Who in the hell are you, where am I and how the blazes did I get here?" I replied, grasping a corner of the sheets and pulling them up over my nakedness.

“My friends call me Sun. I was brought here to tend to your injuries, sir. As to how you got to Miss Sweete's estate, I couldn't tell you. I certainly can't imagine her dragging you here all by yourself.”

“Who?”

“Miss Sweete, your benefactor. She had you brought here, then called upon me to tend to you, as I said.”

“I don't know anyone named Sweete,” I growled.

Sun was unperterbed, and the broad smile remained upon his face.

“She certainly seems to know you, Mr. Kendall. Now, if I can have a look at you?”

“What are you, a doctor? How long have I been here, how long have I been out of it?” I questioned him, testing my range of movement by stretching.

My ribs didn't hurt nearly as much as they should, having been broken just recently.

“Oh, no, not a doctor, Mr. Kendall,” he said with a chuckle, and then adopted a very forced accent, wiggling his fingers at me, “It's ancient Chinese secret!”

“A mean feat, for a Korean man,” I grunted in response.

He chuckled again, “How did you know?”

“Spent a year in Korea, in an action sanctioned by the Japanese government against an opium warlord on the border, very covert, hush-hush stuff. Enough time to tell the difference.”

“Ah, I see,” he said, lifting my meat arm to begin unwrapping the binding around my chest, “A man of the world, much like myself. I attended university in London; that's where I met Miss Sweete.”

I lifted the cybernaughtic arm to accommodate his unwwrapping of the bandage.

“So how long have I been here?” I asked again.

“Oh, I would say that it's been about ten hours. Sleeping most of that time, except the past few minutes, of course. I've been tending to you for about two of that now, I suppose.”

“Two hours? What did you do, work a miracle?”

He laughed heartily.

“I suppose I did. I'm a sorcerer, after all. Aren't we supposed to?”

I looked at him, a bit taken aback. I had never until that day met a practitioner of magic in any form. Sure, I'd heard of them in stories when I was a kid back in Huyton, but I had never expected to meet one.

“So you can work magic and all that?”

“Yes, Mr. Kendall. You are looking so much better; how do your ribs feel?”

“Quite a bit better than when they were about staved in, I'd say,” I said as I stretched some more, trying to keep my fascination for Sun's professed talent from showing.

“Well, you will feel even better once you've taken to the nice, hot herbal bath I've made for you; then I will perform some acupuncture and see if I can work out some of the minor damage I've found in examining you.”

He led me to the bathroom adjoining the bedchamber I'd awoken in, and I begrudgingly let the sheets fall to the floor to step into the tub.

“So, how's our guest this morning?” came a musical voice from the doorway.

I knew who it was immediately, but I still couldn't stop myself from turning to the voice. The light scent of citrus filled my nostrils. Standing in the doorway, in a flimsy bit of nightclothes, was Polly. Her eyes glanced over me and then down briefly, and I moved my arms down so quickly to cover myself that I almost banged my joint with my metal hand.

“So you are quite awake now, aren't you, Soldier-Boy?” she purred with a smile.

“Don't you knock?” I grumbled, clutching myself in a vain attempt to cover up my nudity.

“Not really,” she said nonchalantly, “Sun, is he well enough now after your ministrations?”

Everything about the two rooms I'd been in spoke of money. I was working it in my head how a woman working in a factory by day and carousing in a club by night might afford such a place, when she laughed again.

“I don't work there, silly, I subsidize it. I go in every now and then to check things out, make sure the workers are getting fair treatment.”

“That's a first,” I snorted, moving quickly to seat myself in the bath.

“I am hoping so,” she said, smiling warmly.

“Well, he's much better off now than when you brought him here, that much is certain. A little more work and he will be as good as new, maybe even better,” Sun replied to Polly's earlier question.

“Good,” she said, smiling at Sun.

He smiled back, basking in her approval. I didn't doubt anyone wouldn't want to.

“So, does Soldier-Boy need help with his little bath?” Polly said huskily, bending to grab a loofah from the side of the large tub.

“Ah, no, I don't... but thank you very much for the offer. I think I can handle it, really.”

She stood straight, laughing and shaking her long, luxurious pale mane, brushing a few stray locks from her face.

“Alright then, Soldier-Boy, I'll leave you to your bath,” she said with a grin, then turned and walked through the door.

Just as I was about to breathe a sigh of relief, she stopped, turning just her head, and offered me one of the prettiest smiles I'd ever seen.

“You are an interesting man, Robb Kendall. Most men wouldn't have turned down such an offer. I'll be back in a bit to check on you. I must get ready for my luncheon, I've some friends coming over to call.”

Sun laughed when she exited the bedchamber and shut the door. Flustered, I threw the loofah, which Polly had dropped into the tub, at him. It smacked him wetly directly in the center of his chest. He was almost bowled over by it.

What? What does she want from me?” I asked Sun.

He laughed again, pushing the loofah from his chest where it had stuck.

“I should think that would be obvious, Mr. Kendall. Now finish your bath, and get a towel on and I'll be waiting in the bedchamber with the needles.”

I bathed quickly, contemplating the sensual siren who had rescued me from my injuries with her acquaintance's aid and what the price for such aid would be. Nothing's free, and I couldn't really bring myself, attractive as she was, to think that Polly Sweete's sole interest in me was as a sexual plaything.

It wouldn't be long before my hunch would prove right.


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 Post subject: Chapter 6: The Hunter Rising
PostPosted: Wed Jul 16, 2008 12:14 am 
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Polly had been kind enough to hire a cab to have dropped me off wherever I would like. She'd provided me with fresh clothing, of a cut which I was completely unfamiliar but was certain was well beyond my budget.. I would have felt rather out of place walking from the cab and into the neighborhood surrounding my apartment building in Huyton so I'd had the cab drop me in Halewood, which is a bit more upscale. From the looks I was getting even in Halewood, though, my new suit was something that would draw attention anywhere.

I made my way to Frenche's Clothiery and had some new, more conservative and less expensive, clothing tailored. After changing my clothing I wandered through the narrow, winding streets of Knowsley on my way back to my apartment. I found some snaking alleys to worm myself through, stepping over refuse and kicking away sniffing dogs at my heels. Then I finally gave in and headed to my apartment.

Old habits die hard. Even in the days of my youth, the labyrinthine streets of the borough were easy to utilize in losing any would-be pursuer. My Ranger training had rendered keener my abilities to travel unseen and unheard. And, especially, had ingrained in me a certain desire to use the more circuitous and unpatronized routes to find my way.

For the next four days, I decided to lay low. I went out to get groceries, and once made a trip to the neighborhood hardware store to pick up a few odds and ends. I built some simple shelving for my apartment and, lacking any sort of place to hang my clothing, a simple clothes rack. I spent my mornings trying to figure out what I was going to do with my newfound nemesis, Dashing Matt, and how I would make things right between Eileen and I. In the afternoon, I played a bit of footie with the ragamuffins of my tenement. My evenings were spent at Dublin's Delight with the old dogs, trading war stories.

I decided that Vernon O'Keefe would be dealt with first early on. I could never countenance being spat upon by another man. But if I walked into The Factory again, I was sure I would just receive another beating or worse. So I decided to go to ground.

I had known hunting in the city would be different. If I asked around with the wrong people, Vernon would hear about me looking for him too quickly. And after being gone from the Metropolis for ten years, I wasn't sure anymore who the right people to ask would be.

I came to the decision then that if anyone knew of Vernon and Dashing Matt - what they were up to, who they were close to, and where they hung their hats - it would be Liam Gallagher. He'd told me that if I ever needed anything, I should call on him. Yet I didn't trust him at all. He was a criminal, a snake. And not just any criminal, a mob boss.

Not to mention, the possibility crossed my mind, Liam might have some sort of ties with them. Surely, being a man of such stature in the criminal community, little went on without his knowledge and perhaps even the necessity of his approval. This thought made the game I was proposing to play all the more dangerous.

Nevertheless, I stepped into it with a vigor. There was just no other way to do this.

The night before I was ready to enact what I was planning, I brought home some duct tape, a hacksaw, a file, a whetstone and a length of rope. I sawed through the metal of the ten-gauge's barrels less than an inch from the forend, smoothing the cut edges with the file so it would not snag on anything. I then proceeded to saw away the stock and fashion a pistol grip from what was left with a length of duct tape. I wrapped some of the rope around the pistol grip as well, knotting it handily there, and fashioned a sling to hang the shotgun from my shoulder and along the inside of my jacket. As much as I hated to do so, I cut out the bottom of the right pocket of my jacket, and tested my reach through it to make sure I could grip the weapon handily.

The Webley had a small butt-mounted ring, to which I threaded a thick bit of plastic cable. This cable would hang around my neck, and be pushed under my left arm. Not the best replacement for a holster, perhaps, but all the same serviceable enough for my purposes.

The knife I'd won was painstakingly honed to a razor keen edge its former owner had never bestowed upon it. I would thrust it into the back of my pants, held up by the sheath clip's attachment to my belt.

All of my rounds were checked and re-checked. I'd taken some of the bullets for the Webley carefully apart and increased slightly the amount of grain inside them. Most of the shells I had were shot, but there were four slugs.

Although they were ready for use, none of these items were coming with me on my first outing to start my hunt.

Instead, I was going unarmed into Liam Gallagher's camp.


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 Post subject: Chapter 7: Deal With The Devil
PostPosted: Fri Aug 01, 2008 5:55 am 
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I wasn't sure what exactly I was planning to do once I found Liam Gallagher and his gang. All I was thinking about, really, was getting Eileen away from them. Alright, and maybe a little bit of hard love for Vern's face from my fist. The metal one.

That's the thing about Ranger training. It taught me flexibility, adaptability. It taught me to act independently and outside of any plan, much more so than any other military training would have. It honed my instincts as well as my body.

My instincts were telling me that there was going to be a fight, wherever I found them. My whole body was a coiled spring, ready to explode into action. I was on the hunt. And I had absolutely no idea what the bloody hell I was getting myself into.

Liam had a favored haunt, back in the bad old days. I tried that pub first, but it had been burned to the ground years ago, while I was away. It was getting dark, and no one in their right minds was out on the street at that hour. Or no one who didn't have someone else backing them up.

The alley wolves followed me for some distance before becoming more obvious. I had seen their like before, here in Huyton in my youth as well as in other cities I had haunted during R&R. Urban predators are all the same. They hunt anything that appears weaker than themselves, and always in numbers.

There were six of them. The five moved around me, whilst their leader took up a position in front of me, turning with a jaunty little spin in his rags to mock my manner of dress. I'd put on the good evening suit Polly had given me.

“Top o' the mornin' to ya, mate,” he said in an exaggerated brogue, grinning wildly.

“Bugger off,” I replied simply, continuing on in stride.

The fellow made a look of false affrontery, and his fellows laughed.

“But sir, how you hurt me with such unkind words!” he whimpered, a merry smile of sport in his eyes.

“That's not all I'll hurt you with if you keep this up, lads. I'm looking for Gallagher tonight. He wouldn't be very pleased with me for going into his place with bloodstains all over my new suit, now would he?”

It took a moment for what I'd said to sink in. I couldn't be sure whether it was the wolfish grin which had accompanied the words, the threat to harm them if they continued stalking me, or dropping my quarry's name that had made the leader's decision. His eyes narrowed, and he made motion to his pack.

“Come on, lads, there's better sport out there than this one!” he cried as he continued his jaunty spinning, right down an alley and away from me.

The others followed him, some looking back with what almost seemed a disappointed look. I flexed the metal clamps on my cybernaughtic arm in their full view, and they turned away to continue their flight.

I wandered Huyton's streets and alleys for another hour before I found anyone who might tell me anything of Gallagher's current nightspot.

“Hullo, sirrah,” a husky whisper came at me from a darkened corner of the intersection ahead.

I continued my walk down the street nonchalantly, waiting for whoever had spoken to show themselves. A lady, if one could call her that, stepped from the shadows. She slipped in beside me, her legs pumping to keep up with my pace, the heels of her secondhand-fashionable boots clacking on the cobblestones.

“You look like a gent who's looking for a good time, right? Am I right? Well, Maddie's my name, and whatever you like is my game. I'll treat you right good, mister! You like French love? Five quid, and I'll suck your fat prick off good!”

She was pretty in a ragged and worn way, city life having taken rough toll on her some years ago. The lines of worry and hardship drew down the corners of her mouth, even as she smiled. Her clothing was fancy even in its dirty raggedness, and designed to show off charms she definitely had an ample supply of.

I had an idea.

“Maddie, be a good lass and come over here with me,” I smiled.

“Oh, no, I think that the alley over there would be much more suitable for our needs, milord,” she said, attempting to be coy and batting her long eyelashes.

I laughed at her loudly then, and she looked confused. I let my wolfish grin come out, and she began to look frightened.

“Over there, what, where your filthy pimp can slit my throat while you busy me with your charms? Oh, no, my dear, I have much greater things in mind for you.”

Her face went white. I gripped her by the arm and hauled her into the shadows of the alley I had indicated to our left. And then I waited. I barely caught sight of her hand going to her inner thigh, to the garter covered by her dress, and lifted my cybernaughtic arm just as her hand lashed at my head. As her wrist collided with the arm, I heard a sharp crack of bone on metal, and her eyes went wide and a whimper escaped her throat. The straight razor clattered to the cobblestones.

The sound of booted feet pounding the pavement near us alerted me to her pimp's presence. I ducked and swung myself slightly to my left, and heard the thump of something wooden striking flesh. The cricket bat the man had intended to brain me with had struck poor Maddie in the temple as I ducked beneath the swing.

I turned to the pimp, all grin.

“Looks like you've just hit wicket, mate. I'm going to have to give you out for that, ” I growled, and hurled myself at him.

After a few moments of instruction upon the fine art of fisticuffs with the batsman, I left him bleeding upon the ground. The girl regained her consciousness slowly. She couldn't move very well when she finally did, I had made sure of that beforehand. I'd tied her ankles tightly with a strip from the bottom of her dress, and her wrists behind her back with another.

“What're you going to do to me,” she said, looking horrified at her pimp where he lay crumpled unconscious.

“Nothing too terribly painful, if you tell me some things that I'd like to know, Maddie. D'you think you might be able to do that?”

She nodded vigorously, her eyes fearfully fixing on the cricket bat in my right “hand”.

Interrogation's a tactic one learns in the Rangers as well, you see. But I didn't need much in the way of training to know that this bird would sing at the merest hint of physical threat to herself.

“Where can I find Liam Gallagher at this hour?”

I let my voice sound soothingly smooth, but kept a subtle edge of violence ready to become unhinged in it. I'm sure it was a tone she was familiar with. Only I was a much bigger man, and one with a mechanical arm.

She cringed a bit, eyes narrowing.

“What you want to know for? You aren't one of his boys.”

The wicked blow I struck with the cricket bat served two purposes as it lashed out and was followed by the splintering of bone. First, it provided me with a means to insure her pimp would not follow me with a broken ankle and try harrowing me further on my journey this night. And as for the second, Maddie winced, her face a naked mask of fear.

Her pimp howled in anguish, awakened from his slumber by his newfound pain.

“I'll be asking the questions here, love,” I said in that same smooth voice.

“They're at the Nancy's!” she screamed, the tears beginning to flow.

“The what?” I asked, letting a little more violence into my tone, “Tell me where that is, and truly, lass, or it's your pretty face with the next one.”

I hefted the bat menacingly. Sobbing, her hands rising to her face, Maddie spilled the directions out in a flood of words. The Nancy's was short for Nancy's Hall of the Burlesque, a little place in a more quiet neighborhood of Huyton. It was quiet before I'd left from lack of a large amount of criminals in the area. Now it was surely quiet for fear of the same.

I had one last thing to do before I left the duo, though.

“Maddie, I want you to look at me.”

Her eyes raised, the tears still streaming and her chin quivering.

“I want you to run along after tonight, be a good lass and find something else to do with yourself, d'ye hear me? Forget this man and the life he offers you. Because if I ever see you out and about with him again,” I brandished the straight razor she'd thought to use on me earlier before her eyes, “I'll know what you've been up to, and I'll carve you a second smile to match that pretty first one you've got right under it.”

“And you,” I said to the squirming, wheezing pimp on the ground as I ground my bootheel down onto his broken ankle and he began to howl in agony again.

“Look at me, you piece of sh*t,” I said coldly, gripping his chin to pull his gaze to mine as his cries died down to wheezing whimpers again, “I want you to do something for me as well. I want you to spread the word high and wide that Robb Kendall's not a man to be fucked around with. I'll make sure I break more than just your bloody ankle the next time I run into you. And the same goes for any of your little fucking friends as well.”

“Christ, this place really has gone to the shitter,” I muttered as I walked away from them.


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 Post subject: The Application
PostPosted: Mon Sep 01, 2008 8:10 pm 
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Location: Somewhere in the CAS
"Do it, Robb Kendall, and you're a F-BOMBING DEAD MAN!" Liam shouted, sweat running down his face and spittle flying from his lips.

I was pressing the barrel of a .45 automatic into the underside of his chin while his goons pointed their own guns at me when he said it. I smiled at them over his shoulder.

"Fucking crazy-man!" Dashing Matt was saying under his breath, the gun trembling in his hand as he glanced down at the corpse of the man whom I had just killed with a quick upwards strike of my palm against the underside of his nose.

"I only see a couple of ways out of this one, Liam. You've been kind to me in the past, but I'll blow your F-BOMBING head clean off if I don't get your word that Eileen can get clean from this sh*t if I do what you're asking me to do. And maybe your men can try to kill me, but" and I flexed my metal arm before his and everyone else's eyes, "I've dealt with worse than your little bitch boys, let me tell you."

That single motion seemed to put a little less iron in some of the boys' rods, and they lowered their guns somewhat. Only Matt was left covering me. Liam's hands were white-knuckled gripping his knees.

The crowd at The Nancy's was either standing stock still or taking cover from what seemed like the imminent onset of flying lead. And every one of them was looking at me as if I were stone cold crazy. Looking back, I think they were right.

"I give you my-" Liam began softly, but I interrupted him.

"What, Liam?" I shouted loudly, "I don't think that everyone in here can hear you. Speak louder. Or I blow your F-BOMBING brains all over the wall. I'm tired of all of this bullshit!"

"I give you my word, you F-BOMBING nutter! My word, you do what I want you to and she's free to F-BOMBING go!" Liam all but screamed, eyes squeezed tightly shut as the hammer clicked back on the .45.

"You all heard this bastard, didn't you?" I voiced loudly, "His word!"

And then, quickly, I leveled my pistol at Dashing Matt, and blew his thumb off on his gun hand. He dropped his pistol, howling in pain. The other men began to wheel and duck away in a panic.

I backed towards the door, pistol readied for any comers.

“Everyone knows your word's your honor, Liam Gallagher. I'll damn well hold you to it. See you in a few days.”

Liam turned, rage evident on his reddened face.

“Not if I F-BOMBING have you killed first, you bastard!” he spewed out with venom.

“Remember, Liam,” I said, winking at him as I dodged through the back door, “just who's the decorated RIR sniper here. You won't ever see it coming if you f*ck me on this. Not from a thousand yards, you won't.”

I let the door slam shut in front of me.

I made my way through the night, avoiding the places where urban predators hide, swift in my travel.

At the tiny apartment, I checked my stowed weapons to find them in place and still loaded. Next time, I wouldn't be unarmed. I strapped the shotgun over my right shoulder under my jacket, pocketed the revolver and put the knife in my inside pocket. I slipped several shotgun shells and bullets for the revolver into my other outer jacket pocket. The automatic I now possessed, I left in the waistband of my pants.

My first step after arming myself was to assess the situation at hand. Liam had told me that in order to win Eileen's freedom from Dashing Matt, I would have to do him a favor. I had agreed quickly, and found his responsive sly grin more than a bit distasteful.

It was a robbery he had planned for me. Not some smarmy masked bank job, but a real breadwinner. But like anything worthwhile, it wouldn't be easy. Impossible, if I tried to do it alone. So I set my mind upon finding the friends I'd made in the Royal Army hospital in North Africa. I had only to find a way to convince them to join me.


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