We pull up in front of a building, it’s nicer than most of the places around this area. There’s a neon sign of a woman holding a rose up to her mouth like it’s a microphone.
“What is this place?” I ask.
“It’s a karaoke bar,” the assassin answers, her voice somewhat distant. I noticed on the way here that she seems angry. Though no one was hurt, much, this ‘Newt’ giving guns to young men has rubbed her the wrong way. The Falecido pisses her off and he only steals bikes from young people. I can’t imagine how mad this makes her.
“Okay, stay still, I need to concentrate. If you move I’ll have to start over.”
“Aight, try not to make me look too weird.”
The first thing to do when disguising a person is to hide any distinguishing features they have. In Hollyhock’s case, it’s her tattoos and scars. I create a pliable sheet of energy that takes in the shape of her face. It copies the deep brown of her skin, creating a blank version of her face. I fill in the lines in her hairline and eyebrows just to be safe.
Then I start adjusting the main features: the eyes, nose, and mouth. I give the eyes more space, making them somewhat smaller and for added measure change the colors. A little yellow in the sclera, change the iris to emerald green. I turn the point of her nose slightly up. Her mouth, her lips, I like their shape as is.
‘Seems a shame to change it.’
But this is important. Narrower and thinner lips, I straighten the Cupid’s bow and lower its position entirely.
Then what every good disguise needs: a new distracting feature to focus on. A thin scar that travels under her eyes and across her nose bridge. I raise her cheekbones and make her jaw smaller.
With that, her disguise is complete, I can’t recognize her as herself anymore. I push it onto her face and it meshes perfectly.
“Done,” I announce. The assassin opens her eyes and explores her new face in the mirror.
“Whoa, that’s really fucking weird.” She touches her face to make sure it’s her. “How long will this last?”
“As long as I want, as long as I’m near you,” I explain. She considers it for a moment.
“Fine. I’d need your help anyway.” She points to the glovebox. “Give me the patch in there.”
I oblige, opening the compartment and handing her a white patch. She peels a layer off it and slaps it on her deltoid, covering her Bay Leaves tattoo. She rubs it in circles and then the material starts to change color, matching her skin tone. In a few seconds, it completely blends in.
“How does that work?” I ask.
“No idea. C’mon, stay close.” She exits the car, walks to the building, and takes out her phone. Tapping something on her screen her phone goes black for a few seconds. Then comes back to life showing a video of people walking around.
“What are you watching?”
“This is a camera feed from inside,” she answers. Hollyhock taps the screen and it changes to another room.
“How are you seeing that?”
“This building has a thing called WiFi, it lets things like my phone connect to other things like the internet. The security system here runs on the same WiFi network, sloppy, and my phone has a program that lets me use certain things connected to WiFi,” she explains quickly all while tapping through to see through different cameras. “Like these security cameras.” One of them cycles into a women’s restroom. “This place is disgusting,” the assassin mutters under her breath. She cycles faster and finds who she’s looking for. She starts following him with the cameras.
“C’mon.” She enters the building and walks with such great intensity that it’s hard to keep up with her.
‘Maybe I should start exercising.’
I follow her up a flight of stairs, she goes up two or three at a time, making it to the next staircase before I can catch up. When I have her in my sights again, I can see her fists balled up, anger practically coming off her in waves. I should calm her down but I’m not sure how I’d go about doing that. Or if I even want to. Hollyhock pulls open a door marked “Men’s” and heads inside. By the time I catch up she’s standing outside one of the stalls. I catch a glimpse of her reflection in the mirror, I know it’s not her face but even still she looks distant.
The assassin takes a deep breath and uncurls her fists, but the anger emanating from her is still there. It’s worse if anything.
‘Should I say something?’
A man exits one of the stalls, it’s not the one she’s looking for. He goes to wash his hands but she speaks up,
“Get out. Right now,” she says in a low voice. He’s smart because he nods quickly in agreement and makes a hasty exit.
Then a pasty, lean man exits one of the stalls. He zips up his pants and fixes his shiny belt.
“I would not go in there, just committed a war crime in that stall,” he says absently, not looking at either of us. Hollyhock allows him the courtesy of washing his hands. Or more likely things are about to get physical and she doesn’t want his dirty hands on her. The man, disgustingly, washes his hands briefly before running them through his greasy black hair.
He turns to look at the assassin.
“God just be making anybody, huh?”
With that, Hollyhock delivers a quick punch to his face. A hollow thud lets me know his nose is broken. Blood starts gushing to confirm it. His eyes involuntarily tear up and he pulls out a knife. Before he can get the chance to use it, she grabs his wrist, pushes it back, and palm strikes the hilt of the knife driving it in between the tiles of the wall; taking it out of the fight.
She follows with the back of her fist across his face. At this point, it’s more of a beat down than a fight. He spins away and hits his head on the counter. Newt tries to get his feet under him but Hollyhock presses her foot to the back of his knees, effectively keeping him in place. She slams her hand on his head.
“You and I need to talk,” she growls in his ear.
“About what?!” He pointlessly struggles to get up.
“Your little side gig, selling guns to kids,” she can’t keep the anger and disgust out of her voice.
“Their money was green, what more is there to think about?” Clearly, this man doesn’t fully understand the position he’s in.
“‘What more is there to think about?’” She repeats as he pulls him by his hair. “How about this?”
She starts brutally punching him in the face with her free right arm. He moves his hands to defend himself but it’s like a man trying to stop waves on a beach. Her strikes are relentless and I think she won’t stop. She’ll kill him before she gets whatever she needs from him. I rush over to grab her arm and in the instant I do, she turns to look with a ferocity I’ve never seen before.
It doesn’t last long, however. She softens her expression for me.
“What?” The assassin asks.
“You’re going to kill him before you get your info,” I point out.
“I was just trying to knock him out,” she counters. Then she takes a look at his bruised and bleeding face. He meekly fights to stay conscious, slowly turns his head from side to side. “But I might have gotten carried away,” she admits.
“If you need him unconscious, let me,” I offer. She moves out of my way, letting Newt fall. He tries to get up and retaliate but stops when I put two fingers to his forehead.
I concentrate a small pulse of magical energy through my digits. It fires quickly, phasing past his skull and overwhelming the synapses of his brain. He immediately collapses.
“What did you do to him?” She asks while washing the blood off her hands.
“Gave his brain a little too much to handle. He’ll be out for as long as you need him to be,” I explain. The assassin looks at her phone and sucks her teeth.
“Are you epileptic?” She asks.
“If you’re asking if I’m prone to seizures, then no, why?”
“‘Cause his friends are coming here. Pick him up and stay close to me,” she answers.
“I’ll handle them, just pick him up,” she assures me. For a brief moment, I can’t help but wonder what my days would’ve been like if I picked someplace else to visit. But the thought passes and I lift the man off the ground. He doesn’t weigh much, but then again I’m not used to lifting bodies without magic. I groan and slump him over my shoulder. He smells awful and his belt buckle is cold against my neck.
Hollyhock cracks her knuckles by flexing her fingers. She does something on her phone and turns to me.
“Make sure to stay close,” she reiterates. The assassin waits with a hand on the door handle. I’m about to ask what she’s doing but then I hear it, footsteps of a large man approaching. Just as it sounds like he’s right outside, the assassin shoves the door open. It crashes into his face, he backs up holding his nose, not seeing Hollyhock bring her leg up to kick him in the chest.
The large man falls hard to the ground, his head clatters against the tiled floor. Hollyhock stomps on his face to firmly knock him out. I step out of the bathroom to see there are six other men in the hallway making their way over to us. This doesn’t seem to alarm her as she pulls out her phone. She taps something on the small screen and then the lights start rapidly flashing. Their confusion provides her with all the opportunities she needs.
The first man she walks up to, she punches in the throat, grabs his head, and slams him into the wall. He crumples to the ground. The second is trying to focus on her but the lights are hurting his eyes. She swiftly kicks the side of his knee, and as he lets out a horrible scream she drives her elbow into his temple. Before his body hits the floor she moves to the next one.
I should find this situation worrying, scary, or at least exciting. If, oddly enough, I didn’t find it so fucking sexy. Here she is, outnumbered, just recovered from serious injuries, and yet she’s picking these men apart. Her clothes threaten to come apart as she twists and turns in her deadly dance. One of them comes close to landing a hit but she weaves out the way, countering with a knee to the torso and slamming her elbow into the back of his head, flipping him in the air.
‘Goddesses above, she’s phenomenal.’
While I was focusing on the articulation of her powerful limbs, I miss her dealing with the other two.
The assassin delivers a series of quick punches up the last man’s torso and punctuates it with a devastating blow to his jaw. She doesn’t bother to see if he can get back up. Hollyhock just cocks her head for me to keep moving. With a tap of her phone, she sets the lights back to normal.
“Well, that was fun,” she says. Relieving me of the weight on my shoulders, she takes Newt and we quickly exit the building.
She tenderly and carefully throws his unconscious body as hard as she can into the back seat. The assassin starts the car before asking,
“Can you wake him up whenever?”
“Yes,” I answer. Even after getting this guy, she hasn’t calmed down, the anger fuming in her makes me wonder what she plans for the man in the back.
She stares ahead, calculating something. When she reaches whatever conclusion she needs, we start off to our next destination.
Hollyhock drives in silence for a few minutes before she decides to turn on the radio. An upbeat song comes on but the only reaction she has to it is the tapping of her fingers on the wheel.
It’s getting dark by the time we get to wherever we are.
The building we’ve parked in front of isn’t finished. The skeleton of the structure is done, but the walls aren’t there. Given the state of some of the pillars, I’d have to guess it’s been left to the elements for years.
The assassin grabs a knife from under the seat, tucks it into her boot, and gets out of the car, dragging our passenger from the back. I follow suit, staying close to her. She pulls him by his collar into the site.
“Sometimes when people are building something, they run out of money to finish it. This is one of those times,” she explains to me. “It happens a few too many times in this city. But abandoned construction sites are great for privacy.”
As we ingress, the assassin grabs an old rusty chair and takes it with her. We enter a yellow steel cage of some kind. She lets go of Newt to press a button on a panel and the cage groans to life and starts lifting us.
“Thank god this elevator still works,” she says. “I wasn’t in the mood to free climb.”
“What’re we doing here?” I ask Hollyhock. “I understand giving guns to those young men was horrible, but it was the actions of a greedy man. What can you possibly hope to learn from him?”
The assassin licks her top row of teeth before answering.
“He’s greedy, yes. But he can’t be that stupid. The guns he gave them aren’t cheap. Not something two kids who think they have to rob a diner could buy. So, unless sleeping beauty here is into charity, there’s something else going on.” The elevator takes us to the top floor.
‘This is her world, I have to assume that she knows what she’s doing.’
Hollyhock opens the elevator and continues dragging Newt.
She props him up in the chair she took and ties him with some discarded cable she finds. She then ties the excess to a pillar and tips his chair over the edge of the building until the line is taut.
‘Falling from this height would certainly kill him.’
“Wake him up.”
Witch-Hazel uses her magic to wake Newt up. I’d asked how exactly it works but I’m guessing it’s a long explanation. I don’t have the time and it doesn’t matter.
Newt wakes up groggily. Seeing this piece of shit draw breath pisses me off. When he realizes where he is, he starts freaking out.
“What do you fuckers want?!” He screams and flails around.
“I wouldn’t do that if I was you,” I tell him. “Seven stories, more than enough to kill you.” He calms down somewhat. “This,” I gesture to the cable holding him in place. “Is your lifeline.” I pull out the knife and rest it against the cable.
“Lie to me, tell me something I don’t want to hear, make a corny joke.” I slowly saw the cable. “Get it?”
“FUCK YOU,” he tries to spit at me but it falls short before my feet. If it had reached me, I’d’ve killed him right then and there.
“So you want to die, is that it?” I start moving my knife up and down.
“Look, if you want money, I got plenty of it!”
“I don’t doubt it. How much did those kids pay for the guns?”
“Hundred bucks,” he answers.
“A hundred for two guns, to kids who never used them before? That’s bad business. There’s no way you need the money that bad.”
“Well, I have a couple of child support payments to make,” Newt jokes. I resume sawing the cable. The knife makes little progress into the metal rope, but the vibrations are what’s really scaring him. “Wait wait wait!”
“I already said I don’t like bad jokes,” I remind him. “Don’t bullshit me.”
“Okay, okay, just put the knife away!”
“You think you’re in a position to negotiate?”
“I remember stuff better when my life isn’t hanging on by a thread.”
“Fine.” I tuck the knife back into my boot.
‘Not like it was doing much anyway.’
“Why sell guns to kids? You must’ve sold a bunch for those kids to have heard about you.”
“Here’s a better question,” he proposes. “How do you even know about it and why do you care?”
I forgot that I was wearing a disguise. Turning to Witch-Hazel I ask her to drop it. I think she knows what asking this actually means, but she obliges anyway. The witch waves her hands and whatever magic shrouded my face dissipates. I rip the chameleon patch off my shoulder and put it into my pocket.
Newt doesn’t recognize my face, but my tattoo sparks familiarity in him. If he thinks it's strange that my appearance changed, he keeps it to himself.
“Okay, you’re a Bay Leaf, that’s the how. Doesn’t answer the why.” He’s trying to act calm, but there’s an unmistakable strain in his voice now that he realizes who he’s dealing with.
“I answered your question. You don’t need the money, so what’s the bigger plan here?”
“Anyone ever tell you that you’re paranoid?”
I take the knife back out.
“Hey hey hey, no need for that!” He pleads. “It’s an optics thing. We give some dumb fucks guns, drugs, whatever other bullshit that's illegal and the HCPD gets some easy busts.”
‘The HCPD. Why am I not surprised? Every gang in the city has a precinct in their pocket. They’re greedier than a swarm of locusts.’
“So you raise a little hell, HCPD gets to swoop in and look like knights in shining armor. What do the DeadNettles get out of it?” I prod.
“I really can’t say. They’ll kill me if they find out I told you,” he begs.
“I’ll kill you right now if you don’t!” I explain to him.
“If I tell you then I can’t go back to them! My life will be over!”
“Then I hope you can survive a seventy-foot drop!” The sawing continues.
I keep at it.
The cable starts to split, Newt teeters further and further back.
“IT’S A SCHEME! IT’S A SCHEME FOR ORGAN HARVESTING!” He confesses. I stop my blade.
“What?!” Witch-Hazel asks. Even she can’t be indifferent to what he said.
“We got this scheme to get a bunch of nobodies arrested, they go missing with our contacts in the police, and we take them and well, you can figure out the rest,” he explains, like it makes this all better.
“So those two kids you sold guns to; you were hoping the cops would arrest them, just so you could steal their organs later?”
“Actually I was gonna snitch on ‘em. The organ game is a pretty penny. You know how much rich fucks who don’t like waitlists will pay for a fresh kidney? Or a clean liver?” Newt replies with almost enthusiasm in his voice. I’m not sure if I’m angrier or revolted by what I just heard. A brief glance at Witch-Hazel confirms she has a similar dilemma.
“Now let me go!” He demands.
‘Poor choice of words.’
“Sure,” I reply.
“Thank you.” he heaves a great sigh of relief. “This is killing my back.” I make my way over to the pillar where the rope is tied.
“Yeah, I bet.” That’s when he pieces together what’s about to happen.
“What are you doing?” He stupidly asks. I tilt my head at the question.
“Letting you go.” I pull the knot the cable was in and gravity does the rest. The cable whips away from me and Newt plummets to his death, screaming all the way. I hear the crash of his body on the ground, then the silence of the city.
It’s not a good, decent man I killed. He was a true piece of shit that wanted to ruin the lives of at least two young men. Who knows how many more. It could’ve been Rye and the rest of his friends that got caught up in this foolishness. So no guilt or remorse grips me thinking about the death I caused; instead, a deep relief washes over.
I can’t say if Witch-Hazel feels the same. She’s definitely disturbed. The more time she spends with me, the more I show her how horrific and ugly this world is. Like an unnecessary truth that I’m forcing upon her. She doesn’t say anything as we both head to the elevator. The decrepit, rusty death trap takes us back down.
“Killing him may not stop this plan at all,” Witch-Hazel suddenly says. “But it spares two victims for now.”
A bit of silence comes.
“That’s more than enough sometimes,” she imparts. I don’t know how to respond, or if she even wants a response.
‘What has happened to her in her past?’ A question for another time. The elevator reaches the ground floor and we exit. The corpse of Newt isn’t too far from us but I don’t bother to look at it for more than a second.
Now that I’ve had time to think about it, Tamara’s probably gonna be pissed that I did this. My phone vibrates in my pocket and I can only hope to god it isn’t her.
I look at the screen and thankfully, it’s not. Instead, it's Kadupul calling. I answer it.
“Hey, you know that weird favor you asked about dead bodies? Turns out my contact at the morgues found a stiff that matches your description. I'll text the address. Better head over there quick.”
“Thanks,” I reply. “Sounds like we got a lead on your necromancer. Someone found a body that matches what you said,” I explain to Witch-Hazel. Her face lights up at the news.
“Take me there! It’s about time you step into my world.”
Ch. 9 End
Bio: I’m a young writer from NYC I want to be a professional writer someday and hope I look good while doing it. I like writing action and romance and even exclusively either. Follow me on Twitter and Tumblr for updates and bug me about my stories!