Part I: Angel of Death
Chapter 1: Call of duty
Back then, everything was different.
I was a hotshot LAPD officer. I spent my time breaking down organized crime. I was famous, I was young, I was handsome, I had a bright future. I, the savior of Los Angeles, would bring forth the holy flame of justice. I was rapidly rising through the ranks, everyone loved me and I was engaged to a pretty young squad captain called Christine, from the raid department. Some even said that one day I would be mayor of this fine city.
It was all too perfect. The life of the ideal cop.
It all started one day when there was a drug raid in a warehouse at the docks. The sun was rising on the horizon and we were moving into position. The stealthy shuffle of our feet was masked by the arrival of vans. We lay hidden. Only the heavy breathing broke the icy silence of the sea breeze. Our bullet-proof vests double checked, order were issued with gestures and we surrounded the warehouse. One of our the younger officers was filming the transaction. Then I gave the order.
"Nobody move!" Officers shouted hoarsely as we kicked down the door waving our assault rifles and charging in gung-ho, the beams from our torches flickering about our dim surroundings. The dealers had been caught red-handed and hadn't expected us. Some of the squad were disappointed; they liked their raids to be nice and spicy, with gunfire and bullet wounds that gave heroic scars, but that always ended with the good guys winning. I didn't mind. I thought of myself as a hero, not a killer. I smiled at Christine. And Christine smiled at me.
There was a celebration in the offices when we came back from the drug raid which we'd been preparing for months. We'd managed to intercept a major drug shipment. "Let's hear it for Detective Wang!" A loud cheer arose from the office workers who had been waiting. Paperwork flew everywhere and work halted. The boss sat sipping his coffee and all he said was, "Nice one, guys."
That night, we retired to a bar for further revelry. There were smiles all around. I hugged Christine and she giggled. This was sure to get us both a promotion and my picture in the papers. After having drunk too much and danced for a few hours and, we went home to get rest deserved after a job well done.
I was getting cocky. I was James Bond. It was a rainy spring and I would stride in to the building, go up the elevator, toss my snap-brim fedora on the hat stand and watch as the secretary swooned.
I started playing dangerous games. I would phone up gangsters the squad wasn't after for the time being and threaten and tease, so that they would think we knew something, panic, and make a mistake while trying to cover their tracks. I sometimes thought that it would all become too much. One of them would explode one day and ice one of our officers. But they would never get away with it, because I was the hero. I was safe for eternity and my gun was the ultimate judge. I looked in my suspect book and phoned up Rex "Cosmo" Jones.
"You've been a bad boy, Cosmo. I don't think that Santa'll give you much this year. Maybe a lump of coal, black like your heart and dirty like your conscience. I never thought you would sink so low."
"Who the fuck is this?" A dry laugh roared out of my throat.
"Oh, I'm sure you know."
"Wang?..." There was a pause and a whispered conversation. "You really landed yourself in a bad position now. This runs deeper than you think."
"I know more than you can possibly imagine." I was used to this. Pretending to read between the lines was just one trick up my sleeve.
"You're dead, punk!"
I saw nothing unusual about this conversation at the time. I continued living as usual, and one day I left work at sunset and went to Mark's, my usual evening hang-out.
"Good morrow, my old comrade-at-arms."
"You heard the rumor?" I arched an eyebrow. "They're saying there's a trade line being set up across to San Francisco and across the Pacific. Something new. Something big. Cosmo's one of the big players." The noise around me suddenly dulled. I didn't hear the rest of what he said. I just grabbed my coat and ran.
And it was just then that it happened.
Chapter 2: Ars Moriendi
I entered the unmarked building I worked in to find Carl the guard missing, his security screens switched off and no-one in sight. I went up the elevator; still no-one. I hoped it was some kind of joke. I checked my watch. The date was familiar. Some kind of anniversary? I tried the bathroom. Locked. I opened the cupboard, still expecting a surprise party or something. Needless to say the corpse of Carl, a bullet through his head, collapsing onto the floor, came as something of a shock. Suddenly it came back to me.
My mother had died when I was a kid and my dad had brought me up alone. He had been a policeman, and one day when I was fourteen I came back to my suburban home to find a couple of policemen with sad faces bearing ill tidings. They explained that he had died on the job. They tried to comfort me with the stock phrases, his death wasn't painful, he knew the risks, he died for a noble cause, blah blah. That night I went to a cliff I knew, Eagle Peak, that overlooked the city and I swore revenge upon my father's killers, and upon the world of crime.
That had been fifteen years ago. A cold sweat broke out on my forehead. I kicked down the bathroom door to find the message "DIE JET" written in blood on the mirror. In a horrified daze I walked into the office to find the floor strewn with bodies. I ran into Christine's office. I opened the door and stood there, shell-shocked, not comprehending.
She had been crucified, nailed to the wall, almost naked. Mocking messages had been slashed onto her skin. Her eyes were wide open and her was tongue lolling out. It was truly beyond my worst nightmares. I shuddered. Then I knelt beside her and cried.
I emerged from the evil-smelling pit, leaving behind the demons of the past in the cackling, jeering darkness. I got up, and saw that I had chosen the wrong place to be. A couple of thugs were on the point of mugging a woman slightly younger than me. Rage welled through me, overpowering my urge to just run and get away from it all.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you." The thugs turned around. They were wearing silk balaclavas with something written on it in Japanese or Chinese in red. The first one lunged towards me. I punched him straight in the jaw, kicked him in the solar plexus and as he collapsed knocked him out with two fists clenched together to the back of the head. The other ran towards me, knife pointing towards me accusingly and I threw him down with some jiu-jitsu. This wasn't the first time the Office's training came in handy. I removed the balaclavas, looking at their faces. I searched the guys. From their wallets, they looked like ordinary decent criminals. The only distinguishing marks were the tattoos on their chest. Again, the symbol. For the first time I noticed the girl whimpering in the corner. She was Asian. She couldn't see me in the shadows. I took one of the balaclavas off and put it on. Then I cut one of the guys and streaked blood on each of my cheeks. I walked towards the girl. I must have looked impressive in my billowing cloak that made me look bigger than I was, with my mask and blood streaks. "I'd have killed them, but they'll be more useful to the police alive. What's your name?"
"Yuki." She said hesitatingly, fearfully.
"You don't need to be afraid." I hugged her close to me. She cried.
"You don't know what this is. This is really big. Bigger than you can imagine." The words again. The big something. The something I had been looking for, ever since Cosmo first talked about it.
"What do you know?" I said hoarsely.
"I- I can't tell you." She started to walk away. I knew it was hopeless to try and get her to tell me or convince me to protect her.
"Wait - what does the symbol mean?" "Evil." She whispered this with fear in her eyes and galloped away.
"Tell them that you were sent by... the Angel of Death!" I cried after her. I smiled my old ironic smile. By the time the word got around town it would have become tales of a rogue hero who had killed ten men with his bare hands in the name of justice. Now that I wasn't part of the government anymore rumors were to my advantage once more. I knew I would meet the girl again. I wondered, "Why the masquerade?" In our age there were no heroes, no good or evil, only shades of gray. Maybe I thought that by changing my face I could change my identity, become someone else, go beyond the bounds of a human, and then only could I become a true hero. Maybe somehow I could purge myself of my sins. But now was not the time to sit and think. I left and went as far as possible from the crime scene. I hid in a derelict building and curled up for the night. It must have been about three in the morning. When I woke up, it was sunset, somewhere around five p.m.
And it was time for them to die.
Part II: No More Heroes
Chapter 5: Cold skies
Outside, it was as cold as the devil's heart. Bullets of ice tore through the air and hit the ground at my feet. My breath wafted up like puffs of smoke. As I was walking along I felt the weight of my gun against my side, and my trigger finger twitched eagerly. Someone was going to pay. Everything seemed to blur. I could hardly see, the only sounds the crunch of my feet on the snow and the whistle of the wind, the only feeling the chill stab of the nocturnal cold. They knew I was after them. It was being told through word of mouth, but it wouldn't be long before the media were on it. Something wicked this way comes.
I went down some stairs into an underground walkway, a gallery filled with closed shops, the whole corridor half-drenched in gloom with sparsely distributed pockets of light. The silent and unforgiving echo reverberated against the walls, lending voices to the shadowy creatures that lurked in the darkness, feeding on my fears. As I reached a lit corner, a phone started ringing in front of me. It could have been someone dialing a wrong number, or some pre-arranged call to talk about something illegal when no-one was about. But I had never believed in coincidences. I looked for CCTV cameras, but there were none. To find me, whoever was on the other end would have to be good. Very good. I picked up the phone.
"Hello?" A young woman with a foreign, Eastern-European sounding accent answered the phone.
"Is this Jet Wang?"
"What's it to you?"
"My name is Saca Yvackiglip. I want to help you. The police are closing in on you-"
"If I was too stupid to know that I'd be dead by now."
"I'm going to make you an offer you can't refuse."
"What's in it for me?"
"If you do it, I will give you enough guns for a regiment going to war, and take you safely to the house of the man you're after."
"The Man himself. Heh." I smiled. The Man was the most honorable of the big crime bosses around. I should have just put the phone, walked away and left the city, never to be seen again. That would have been the smart choice. But there was adrenalin in the blood that gushed in my arteries. I could finish this nightmare, tonight.
"What do I have to do?"
"Get into a club, kill a man called Bosloranvax" - she spat the name like it was bitter poison and muttered something I didn't understand - "and get out alive."
"Who is he?"
"He is... invading upon my territory. I need someone to get him out of my way."
"I'm not gonna be anybody's fall guy. Even if the Man's framed me, I won't be stopped."
"How long do you think you can last before the police - or someone else - gets you? Believe me, I can make your task much easier."
When you think that the crime committed against you is so bad that your revenge justifies any act, you know that you are damned.
"Alright. I'll do it. How do I find you?"
"Meet me at the World's End Café on dock 42 at Sleepers Bay."
Sleepers Bay. Where those who get in hot water slept in concrete boots.
There was a click, and the phone went dead.
I knew it could have been a trap, but I had to take my chances. I took my gun out and made sure the safety catch was off. The thought of revenge was the only thing that kept me going. Now it was time for everyone to pay their dues. I walked out into the cold of the night, and stared at the darkness that seemed to stretch on forever. It stared back, in defiance of my resolve. I walked on.
Chapter 6: Death of a salesman
It took a while to get to the pier on foot. When I got to the pier, the acrid sea breeze floated around me, as if it was taunting me, a wisp of smoky death. When I got to the café, it looked right out of a movie. There was a wooden panel hanging above the door, rocking back and forth in the wind, creaking, icy seaside rain splattering against the door. And my face. I went in and a waiter took off my coat for me. I grunted. The pleasantries of ordinary life seemed so absurd after years spent in the dark side of never-never land. I saw her straight away and sat down.
"You know, a trench-coat, dark glasses and hat aren't exactly the best way of keeping a low profile." I whispered.
"You can tok. You still haff some blut on you fess." she whispered back nervously.
"You really get kick out of this whole spy thing, don't you? I don't think a fake accent is a good idea either." said I.
"Can't you let me have a little fun?" she whimpered back with puppy eyes.
"Not if it gets me killed." The words came out as naturally, the emotion attached to their meaning long since dried up.
"You are very cynical, yes?"
"You wouldn't believe the things I've seen." Her eyes suddenly lit up with an amber flame.
"You treat me like a little girl." I smiled at this.
"What did you expect? I haven't talked to a human being in years."
"What about that man, J?"
"Oh, sure, if you broaden your definition of 'human being'."
"Shall we have a drink?"
"It's your decision. You're the one with the money here." I was bored. I no longer understood small talk and niceties. It almost seemed like talking a foreign language of which you have at best a shaky grasp with a native who speaks quickly and with a thick accent.
"You are truly amazing."
"That's not what I meant." she had had tea brought to us with a small hand signal. I sipped it as we spoke.
"Where's the club?" I said, attempting to break the silence while simultaneously getting down to business.
"You have no patience!" she snapped. She looked defiantly into my eyes, and said, in a huff, "It is two streets down."
"There is this man, Indiana Smith -"
"I know him. Illegal arms merchant. Small-time. I'll find him."
"Don't you want to know why I want a man dead?"
"It never bothered me before. But now that you mention it, I do."
"Aside from monopolizing the sex market around here and selling military supplies to anyone who has enough money, he kidnaps girls and boys aged in between 6 and 13 and sells them off as slaves." "Good enough for me."
I walked out and headed to the lair of Smith.
The phrase 'dead on arrival' springs to mind. The door had been left slightly open to make it look like everyday breaking and entering, but Indiana's cut throat said everything. An ordinary criminal would have panicked and used a bullet if he found his victim in the apartment during the theft. Then the gun would be identified. No, slash a man with a custom-made weapon, and you would walk off scot-free. Especially a knife. If there's anything about a knife, it's that it's like just about any other dagger or sharp implement. The biggest mistake you can make with a blade is to use one that belonged to the victim. If my suspicions hadn't been enough, I found all the evidence I needed. A signature card. A playing card with metal edges, and the symbol on its back. With a feeling of dread, it dawned on me that the murder weapon had not been a knife, but the card itself. This was no ordinary murder. I took the card with me. They were pretty daring to leave this card here, but all that the police could do by investigating this case was get in trouble. So I found the hidden shelves, took a small tranquilizer crossbow, pepper spray, a silenced pistol and a small semi-automatic, and left the late Smith to rest in peace, in a place where not even the gods dare tread.
by Nicholas Swetenham