Punisher Comics Review 6

Season two of Daredevil herald the coming of a new incarnation of Frank Castle, the Punisher, played by Jon Bernthal. The character has his own series on Netflix and it remains to be seen if Bernthal can keep up the momentum. Since my blog’s inception I have used it to examine the character and express my fandom, but I never talked about the comics that inspired me. And so, I will dedicate a new series to covering my favorite Punisher stories.

* * *

The Slavers (2005)
Garth Ennis
Leandro Fernandez

If you were to compare Frank Castle to a movie slasher, Michael Myers is a perfect match. They are both shapeless entities with a singular drive, operating on instinct to get what they want. Where they differ is Frank has a defined moral compass, but remains an emotionless automaton. Nicky Cavella came close to getting a tangible emotional reaction out of Castle, but pissing on the corpses of his family was not enough. What came next would ultimately do the job in one of the darkest Punisher stories ever written.

Scan

Lining up his crosshairs on a Balkan crime boss Frank prepares to do what he does best when someone tries to steal his kill. A lone woman nearly kills the boss before fleeing the scene. The boss sends his boys to get her, leaving him alone for Castle to perforate from his rooftop perch. Tracking the woman Frank contemplates abandoning her before the boys catch her and drop their pants. Castle makes quick work of them, saving the woman from humiliation.

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On his way out the woman begs for help, but Frank wants to stay out of it until she mentions a baby. The next day the woman wakes up in Castle’s subterranean home where she tells her story. Her name is Viorica and she lived in a village in Moldova before she was kidnapped and forced into prostitution. After enduring months of abuse and selling her body to multiple men on a daily basis, she was sent to America as a part of a larger operation run by a Romanian father/son team and a woman named Vera.

After the move Viorica gave birth to a baby named Anna, but she was only allowed to see her if she worked hard. Desperate to escape with her child, Viorica ran away and met a social worker named Jen Cooke, who was building a case against the Slavers. One day, when Jen leaves the baby in what she assumed was a safe place she gets an email from Vera meant for Viorica.

Scan copy 2

A dead baby is more than enough motivation for Frank to rip and tear. All he needs is a who, what, and where. While telling her story, Viorica laid out the details of the operation. The Slavers have middlemen to attract clients before sending them to discreet locations where the girls are held. One of the middlemen was the boss Castle deep-sixed beforehand, leading him to the man’s club for answers. Wiping out the remaining gangsters, Frank interrogates the boss’s replacement, and gets an address.

Posing as a driver for a pair of clients leaving the house, Frank pulls over the van and makes them an offer. He wants the clients to tell him everything and then to lie to the house guards about losing their wallets once they drove back. The clients oblige until a cop shows up, siren blaring. Intent on sparing the officer Castle puts the fear of God into him before fleeing, the cop’s arrival no doubt spooking the Slavers.

While trying to get information on a new house location, Frank butchers random pimps until he realizes they do not know anything. He later tracks down Jen Cooke to get something more and she gives it up without protest.

Scan copy 3

Tiberiu and Cristu Bulat ran a militia of foreign fighters during the Bosnian War. As they massacred whole villages, the militia took the young women, and killed the rest. Castle assumes once stability returned to the region, the sex trade would be difficult to maintain without NATO intervening. So, the Bulats took their operation underground and moved west. Frank realizes trying to get more information from veterans of the Yugoslav Wars would take extreme measures and plans accordingly.

Following up on a potential location from one of Jen’s rescues, Castle heads into rural New York in search of a house on a lake. Watching from a distance he spies a squad of heavily armed men enter the house, Cristu among them. Knowing they were ready for him, Frank knew to come at dinnertime, and spike their stew with a knockout drug. Soon the whole house goes to sleep and he gives each of the men a twelve-gauge face-lift. The only man to survive was Cristu because Frank needed answers. What followed is one of the most disturbing pages in comics.

 

Scan copy 4

Having gotten what he needed Castle makes his way back to the house when he notices Tiberiu and a dozen men had arrived. Apparently, the father came to kill the son over a business dispute. Frank takes the smart route and hides under the cabin’s dock, hoping to given them the slip. Without a second thought he decides to go loud and gives the closest man a 45-caliber castration. Frank opens fire topside until he realizes he is not fighting street trash. The Slavers are real soldiers with more than a decade of experience. As Tiberiu gives orders the soldiers overwhelm Castle, forcing him to dive into the lake.

After returning to the city he meets Jen at a diner with two off-duty cops, Russ and Miller. They came to her after learning Jen was under surveillance by a Detective Westin, a known shitbag. Russ and Miller eventually reveal Westin is on the take from the Slavers. The cops agree to help, but on the condition that the Detective lives. Frank agrees and moves to pull apart the remains of the operation.

Making his way to a business office Frank confronts Vera, the brains of the Slavers. Plunking her two guards he throws Vera face-first into the window of a secluded room. The glass does not break, giving Frank enough time to reveal how much he knows after dissecting Cristu. He throws her again and again, slowly turning her face into a bloody pulp, while looting filing cabinets for information on Westin. With his final throw the window pops out its frame and Vera plummets to the street.

Scan copy 5

Vera’s files give Frank the address of the last house and a possible location for Tiberiu. After setting up an explosive under the manhole by the curb of the house he waits across the street for the old man’s arrival. Triggering the bomb after making a positive ID Frank charges inside. He chases Tiberiu to the top floor where he uses a girl as a shield, knife to her throat. The old man eggs him on and Castle knows he is at a disadvantage with a scattergun. Out of options he settles for a gamble and calls Tiberiu a coward in Romanian. The old man tosses the girl aside and charges Frank before Tiberiu takes a knee to the face.

Later, with Tiberiu chained to a chair, Castle brings in Detective Westin to make a deal, threatening him with Vera’s file. Frank offers to surrender the file if Westin delivers a package to the Bulat’s contacts back home and acquires Visa’s for the rescued girls. Westin asks what package before Frank turns on a video camera and douses Tiberiu in gasoline. Sparking a flame from a flip-lighter Castle looks into the camera and says “Don’t come back here,” before tossing the lighter.

Scan copy 6

The Slavers is Taken if it were a horror movie and actually good. It shines a light on the darkest criminal enterprise in the world and makes sure you see every detail. While acts of sexual assault are not shown on the page, the description and implication thanks to Ennis’s unparalleled storytelling makes you feel all sorts of uncomfortable. Unlike the usual story arcs, trafficking and slavery is very real, and having the Punisher in the middle of it was surreal to say the least. Instead of cartoonish gangsters and run-of-the-mill thugs, Castle is faced with real monsters that make their money on sexual violence.

If you cannot stomach sexual assault and/or violence against women, stay far away from this book. For Punisher fans, get ready for Frank’s most visceral and disturbing story yet.

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Movie Review Catch-Up

So, it’s been a while since I wrote a review. On the one hand, I wanted to devote most of my time to polishing the first volume of Neon Oldie so I could put it up all at once. And between Deadpool 2 and the time of this posting, I have seen half a dozen movies. It has been four months and there were only six films that caught my interest. Call me a snob, but 2018 has not been great to say the least.

Anyway, here is a list of short summaries for the movies I neglected to review on time:

 

Soldado

A lot was lost with Villeneuve’s absence, but director Stefano Sollima did a good job creating an air of tension in what is ostensibly an action film. The nihilism of Sicario in regards to the Drug War is brought back and applied in small doses to the War on Terror, making a note to shed light on the people who pull the strings.

The only issue was the marketing team that decided to scrap the original name Soldado for Sicario: Day of the Soldado. It is about as retarded as Rise of the Tomb Raider or Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, which is why I am using the original title in this section. Lose your job forever, guys.

 

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

If you liked the first one, might want to skip this. I am fully aware that the Jurassic movies have become schlock and I am fine with that. The problem with World 2 is there is not an original bone in its body. Other than the first half, the second is Lost World with a fraction of the budget. It is a regurgitation of what we have already seen, but more outrageous, and less interesting. The moment the villains took the dinosaurs off the island, I checked out. Why bother making a sequel and not try anything original?

 

Ant-Man and the Wasp

It is no Winter Soldier, but pretty good overall. Unfocused as a comedy, but somehow works as an unorganized mess. A shame Edgar Wright was not there to make it work properly. If you want more Ant-Man with the addition of a sidekick and more size-shifting action, look no further.

 

Unfriended: Dark Web

Never saw the first one, but watched a long-form review online, and it looked dumber than hell. I saw Dark Web with some friends and it was surprisingly fine. I find the idea of hacking very interesting, especially in terms of hardware, and the movie got me hooked in a lot of ways. Of course, I am biased in that regard and there are elements people will find as dumb as the first. Still, I thought it was harmless and pretty fun if you want to see Internet autists kill idiots.

 

Mission Impossible: Fallout

While I am not a fan of spy movies, Mission Impossible is the exception in many ways. For one thing, it is not boring with an emphasis on action where the characters actually do cool stuff, rather than meander around acting cool. Fallout is definitely one of the better action films I have seen in recent memory.

 

Operation Finale

Many are not aware that after World War 2, Israel scoured the globe for Nazis that escaped justice at Nuremburg. Finale is about their most infamous capture, Adolf Eichmann, the architect of the Holocaust. Rather than focus on the operation, the movie highlights the motivation behind people like Eichmann. From his point of view, he was following orders and upholding the values of the Third Reich. He knew what he did was evil, but to him it was for a good cause.

This makes the character a tad sympathetic and drains momentum from the subject. The man who organized the deportation of Jews to death camps was a glorified bureaucrat that did most of his work behind a desk. Compared to Dirlewanger, Mengele, and Heydrich, Eichmann comes off rather plane. Ben Kingsley played him well, but I found it very hard to hate his character or find him compelling. It would have been better if we could see the results of his actions to give him weight as a villain, but it was not there in any substantial way.

 

From here onward I am getting back into regular posts. Neon Oldie Vol. 2 will premiere in six months on March 17, 2019, I have something big for my international readers in the pipeline, and there are a handful of small projects I want to get off the ground.

See you soon.

Neon Oldie #13

Cover13

By
C.T. McMillan
+++

Cover: C.T. McMillan
Model: Megan Crawford (ING: @mleighmoon)

Copyright 2018 by C.T. McMillan
All Rights Reserved
In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the scanning, uploading, and electronic sharing of any part of this book without the permission of the publisher constitute unlawful piracy and theft of the author’s intellectual property. Thank you for your support of the author’s rights.

Also By CT McMillan
Back to Valhalla: A Military Fantasy

Acknowledgments
I could not have come this far without my family encouraging me to pursue my ambition to be a writer.

Dedication
To Razor’ and ’19 for providing inspiration.

***

The couch was pushed closer to the TV, making space for the carpet underneath. The corner was pulled over and held down by a portion of the floorboards nailed together. In the shadow of the crawl space sat a narrow strong box caked in layer of dust. Beside it was a square of dust where something had laid previously. Along the edge of the opening sat a plastic bag of money held in wads and a snub-nose revolver.

Kiddo stared at the ticker of the money counter at the workbench. As the machine counted a stack of 100s in the slot, her hand hovered over a pad of paper, pen ready. The paper was scrolled in numbers from top to bottom, the upper most sum increasing with irregular additions. Kiddo’s pen hung under the latest sum before the counter stopped. She scrolled the new total, added the values, and was nearly in tears.

 

The little tools and bits of circuitry hit the floor when Kiddo brushed them off the bench. In their place she lay on her back and pulled Enzo to her lips. It wasn’t much of a kiss because she couldn’t stop giggling. The other gear-heads around the body shop cheered.

“Get some, Enzo!”

“How much to lose the jacket, girl?”

They had to whisper close to hear each other over the noise.

“We did it,” she said.

“What?”

Enzo got his answer when she grabbed his crotch.

“’Ey,” called Junior from the lobby door. “This ain’t a friggin’ cathouse! We got customers!”

“Why not give ‘em a show, Boss?” asked a gear-head.

Kiddo laughed aloud and stared at Enzo, nothing but joy between them.

“We’re having a baby,” she said.

“We’re having a baby,” he chuckled.

They kissed slowly, savoring every second.

 

Two duffle bags sat by the bed with Kiddo’s arms in their case. Enzo had on boxers as he dug through one of the bags, phone to his ear.

“San Francisco,” he said. “…I told you, just a week. That’s a fraction of the vacation time I have saved up. I deserve a little…” Enzo stood with a can of shaving cream. “Then put ‘Resa on it. She’s good. If not, then tell them I’ll be back in a week…” He walked to Kiddo soaking in soapy water and kneeled behind. “Junior, my clients know I’m going out of town, okay? This is pointless. You’re getting in the way of me packing… Okay, Junior. Good night.”

Enzo sighed before tossing his phone onto the bed.

“Geez.”

“Every time we go on vacation, he gets like that,” said Kiddo.

“Thinks he’s going to lose me,” he said spreading a lump of cream on her temples. “Did Sally get back to you?”

“I gave her the key after I got home. She’ll check in after school.”

“Great,” he said putting a straight razor to her temples. “Let’s hope she doesn’t throw any parties while we’re gone.”

Kiddo smiled.

“So what if she has some fun, babe? It’s just an apartment.”

Enzo paused, pulling the razor away from his lover’s skin.

“What?”

“…We should get a real house.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. Why not? Human kids need room and fresh air when they’re growing up. If they’re nose to nose in tight quarters for most of their lives, they’ll come out all wrong, like people born in zero gravity.”

Kiddo knew he didn’t mean anything by it, but the last few words hit a place that came through in her voice.

“How do you mean wrong?”

“Well, if you…” He realized what he’d done. “I’m sorry, I meant, uh–“

“–No. I get it… If we want to raise our son right, he needs the right environment. Out here its all concrete and glass under gloomy skies, packed in like cheap caviar. Pyongyang was worse. There was nowhere you could go buried in a city under a city. You had to fight for space or climb your way out. Seattle’s not bad,” she turned to him, “but it’s not good enough for our boy. We’re moving out and going somewhere he can grow as soon as possible. After Cici, there’s no point sticking around. All I care about is us.”

He touched her face.

“Where did you have in mind?”

She managed a shrug and smiled.

“Montana? You could be a tractor mechanic.”

“And you a sheriff’s deputy.”

She chuckled.

“I could start my own gang. That’d be fun.”

Enzo just smiled before she turned back.

“We have time to decide,” he said. “Maybe we go farther than–“

He just finished the back of her head when the phone cut in.

“Leave me alone.”

“Maybe he wants to bribe you.”

“Wouldn’t surprise me.”

They let it ring to the end, but it didn’t last long.

“What’s this guy’s malfunction?” asked Kiddo.

“I’ll threaten to quit.” He stood. “One sec.”

“No, babe. Just let it ring. I’ll break his collar bone before we leave in morning.”

Enzo put the phone to his ear.

“Junior, I told you–“

The sudden silence didn’t catch her attention; it was Enzo’s stutter that followed.

“Uh-uh-uh-uh-“

She turned.

“You okay? Enzo?”

He faced her, the phone falling away. His movement was sluggish and eyes peeled wide, mouth half open. It was like he was learning to walk for the first time, each foot reaching random distances toward the tub.

“Uh-uh-uh-uh-“

Kiddo couldn’t move, watching him walk faster.

“…Babe?”

She got to one knee before Enzo put a hand around her neck. He pushed down, but Kiddo braced her self enough to force him to slide her to the other end of the tub. The faucet and nobs dug into her back while Kiddo jerked her neck slightly loose to scream.

“Stop! You’re hurting me!”

“Uh-uh-uh-suh-“ he said bringing the razor in a shaking hand toward her throat.

Fighting the cold metal pressing to her spine Kiddo pushed her foot into his bicep. The more she applied pressure, the harder he squeezed, and the closer the blade came.

“Please!” she gagged. “Why!”

One of Enzo’s eyes twitched and his grip gave way, not enough to let go.

“Suh-suh-top! Muh-me-ee!” Enzo’s face scrunched as his head twisted to the sides. “Stop me!”

His hand with the razor shook harder as he brought the edge to his other wrist. His blue-black skin broke with a gush of white blood, turning the tub water white.

“Don’t! You’ll bleed out!”

Enzo jerked himself backward, dropping Kiddo’s head on the faucet. She landed on her side, the little cut below her pink hair spilling crimson. Enzo was staggering away, sawing his wrist with a growl interrupted by the stutter. His legs didn’t let him go far, forcing him to kneel before dropping the razor.

“Stah-uh-uh-mee!”

Kiddo watched Enzo punch himself. After a couple licks his arms convulsed and swung away.

“Geh-geh-get the gun! Get the gun, babe!”

The word escaped her lips before she thought of saying it.

“No!”

“You have to stuh-uh-”

He craned his head to the bags by the bed. Enzo staggered over, tiring to ground himself.

“Huh-hurry!”

Kiddo ignored the hot blood crawling down her back when she leapt into him. Enzo hit the floor, but was already shambling upright.

“Sorry,” she said before bolting to her arms.

With her foot she flipped the case over and spilled them out. Only the left arm was positioned with the clamps facing up. Kiddo went to the floor and put her anchor into the connector. The clamps twitched as she attempted alignment. The way she was laying she could see Enzo getting closer.

“Stah-ah-ah-ah!”

Kiddo bit her lip when the clamps came down and squeezed her eyes shut, giving out a loud groan. When the pain stopped she shot up to a knee and grabbed the snub-nose just as Enzo brought it to her face. It was pointed past her right eye, fractions of an inch away from brain matter. His other hand, the one he’d sliced to ribbons, was pushing her in front of the muzzle by the shoulder. Tears streamed from his bugged eyes.

“I-I-can’t suh-suh–“

“–Let go of the gun, babe. Fight it.”

Enzo pulled Kiddo harder while her arm trembled with a whine.

“If I can get my other arm–“

“–You let go, yuh-uh-uh-die–“

“–Shut-up and fight!”

She was bright red, teeth clenched, eyes on the verge of leaking. Somehow, through the crazy mask over his face, Enzo looked content. He knew there wasn’t any other way except one; the one he didn’t want to take. She could see it and it scared her to death. And then Kiddo realized the gun was turning on himself.

“No. No! Let go! Let go right now!”

Her arm was too worn out to put up much effort, whining louder. Kiddo sobbed.

“Don’t do this to us! I need you! Wait!”

His hand on her shoulder kept her from pushing the sub-nose out of the way with her head.

“Stay with me! Enzo!”

“I-uh-uh-love you.“

The pistol was close enough that the gunshot came out as a piercing ring. Kiddo’s equilibrium was thrown out of whack, but didn’t move a muscle as Enzo fell with a hole above his left eye. Her whining arm still held the sub-nose by the barrel before she dropped it. Kiddo looked at him slummed on the floor, the guts of his brain splatter behind.

It didn’t seem real. This was a nightmare. This was a horror movie and Kiddo was seated center-row with the full picture before her eyes. It didn’t seem real until she felt the white blood go cold on her face.

The ringing persisted as Kiddo struggled to cry, choking on her own breath. She reached for Enzo and fell on top of him, his open eyes staring up. Kiddo stroked his hair and pulled his cheek to hers. She heaved on the floor, chin quivering, but nothing came out. Behind her Sally stood in the doorway with a phone to her ear and hand on her mouth.

 

Kiddo Volk will return…

***

Recommended Reading/Viewing/Playing
Blade Runner, Directed by Ridley Scott
Deus Ex: Human Revolution/Mankind Divided, Created by Eidos Montreal
Blade Runner 2049, Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Altered Carbon, Created by Laeta Kalogridis
Ghost in the Shell, Directed by Mamoru Oshii
Neuromancer, By William Gibson
Metropolis, Directed by Rintaro
R.U.R., By Karel Capek
Yojimbo, Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Westworld, Created by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy
A Touch of Evil, Directed by Orson Welles
Battle Angel Alita, By Yukito Kishiro
On the Waterfront, Directed by Elia Kazan

About the Author
C.T. is a Florida native and proud gun owner. He is a fan of all things military, comic books, and a self-proclaimed movie buff. In his off-time C.T. reviews movies on a blog no one reads and writes screenplays that will never get made, but enjoys it nonetheless. He hopes this book thing will actually pay off so he can do it forever.

Neon Oldie #12

Cover12

By
C.T. McMillan
+++

Cover: C.T. McMillan
Model: Megan Crawford (ING: @mleighmoon)

Copyright 2018 by C.T. McMillan
All Rights Reserved
In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the scanning, uploading, and electronic sharing of any part of this book without the permission of the publisher constitute unlawful piracy and theft of the author’s intellectual property. Thank you for your support of the author’s rights.

Also By CT McMillan
Back to Valhalla: A Military Fantasy

Acknowledgments
I could not have come this far without my family encouraging me to pursue my ambition to be a writer.

Dedication
To Razor’ and ’19 for providing inspiration.

***

With a ding the elevator opened to the conference room. Monty stood closest to the door, followed by his Bots, and Takashi and Kiddo leaning against the window looking out to the Puget Sound. The elevator was positioned at the far end of the room. It was wide open with a vaulted ceiling that set it apart from your average office space. Instead of plain walls and doors there were sliding rice paper walls. The floor was polished wood where stood a table that was so short you had to sit on your ass with cushions.

If you ignored our tepid trio in the elevator, there were only five people present in the room. Seated at the head was the Shogun, an old man on the edge of 80. He wore a business suit minus the jacket, hugging his skinny frame. Where his spine met his cranium an external drive hid under the curtain of grey hair. It had a slight curve, flush with his skull. To the Shogun’s left sat two box-standard Yaks, waiting for orders.

Opposite them was a suit and a not-your-average cop. The suit was about as basic as you could get when it comes to a salaryman; clean cut, young face, and a fresh two piece suit that put the Yak getup to shame. A portion of his hair on the left side was shaved and dotted with neural ports, one fitted with a translator chip by his ear. Next to him the cop wore a fancy double-breasted tunic of blue and silver. His stiff shoulder straps bore three stars with a badge and colored tabs over his heart. He looked old with a white flattop and goatee, but he was built like an athlete.

Everyone but the Shogun bothered to acknowledge the new arrivals, looking happy to see them.

“A moment, Montgomery,” he said from the other end of the room.

Monty and the Bots stepped out before they bowed.

“Yes, sir.”

The Shogun returned to the table.

“I trust we have an understanding, gentlemen?”

The cop nodded with a grimace.

“We do, but this isn’t over, Kyrii,” said the suit. “Plenty of variables left to consider.”

“Damn straight,” said the cop under his breath.

“Of course; battle’s over, but the war, and all that cliché nonsense. Think of this as an extended hiatus. We’ll lick our wounds and come back to the ring ready to start again. Agreed?”

The two nodded at the same time. The Shogun smiled and started to stand, the Yaks helping him.

“Have a good rest of your day, gentlemen,” he said with a bow.

The men bowed back and made for the elevator.

“Gimme 12 hours, access to R-‘n’-D, and I–“ said the cop with a conspicuous whisper.

“–Save it for the car ride, Ira,” said the suit. “We have plenty of time.”

Kiddo, Takashi, and Monty were taking off their shoes when they passed. Kiddo caught the eye of the suit when she hung her hat on a hook above. It wasn’t much of stare, but enough she unconsciously logged his face in the back of her mind. The two broke it off when she had to move on into the conference room proper.

“A pleasure to finally meet you both,” said the Shogun. “Names and reputations can only get you so far.”

The Yaks helped him bow and everyone but Kiddo returned it. Takashi looked back at her standing with her hands in her pockets.

“Bow, you idiot,” he said under his breath.

One of the Yaks reached for a wakizashi on his belt before the Shogun waved him back.

“No need, Takashi-chan. Emotions are high enough thanks to your poor planning last evening.” The Shogun moved back to the head of the table. “Come sit. Let us talk business.”

The Yaks switched places and sat to the Shogun’s right. Monty was closest by the corner on the other side while Kiddo and Takashi stacked beside him.

The Shogun cleared his throat and clapped twice. The rice paper walls at the back of the Yaks slid to the side and out came a small troupe to join them. Five of the new arrivals carried something in their hands: a small ream of paper, a fancy raised cutting board, and three platters of nigiri. The platters were placed in the middle of the table while the cutting board and paper were set down by the edge.

“Feel free to indulge,” said the Shogun gesturing the platters. “Rest assured, none of it is poisoned.”

“I already ate.”

“Fair enough, Kiddo-chan.”

A short silence came to the table when the raw fish and rice was picked up and chewed whole.

“…So,” said Takashi, “shall we start?”

The Shogun smiled before he turned his back to the Yak by the corner. She pushed the old man’s hair out of the way and pulled the drive off, leaving behind a pair of old fashion neural ports, the kind that looked like headphone jacks glued to his skin. She replaced the drive with another that was more angular. The Shogun sat up straight, his eyelids quivering for a moment.

“Now we may start,” he said opening his eyes. “Firstly, what do they call you on the street, Kiddo-chan?”

She took what she could get.

“Kiddo.”

The Shogun chuckled.

“I mean your nickname. I am afraid it is not in my backup, but I recall it is something consistent with the flapper terminology?”

Even if she wanted to kill the old man and his boys, Kiddo couldn’t help but feel a little humility in the presence of an elder.

“It’s Pinkerton.”

“Aw! That’s it! Can you explain the meaning or is it in reference to your hair?”

“…Cici explained that a hundred years ago, when companies had problems with workers going on strike, they called the Pinkertons. They were mercs that cracked skulls, pulled security, and hunted people for the right price. I do all of that and with my hair he thought it fit.”

“Given your persona and reputation, I could not agree more. Thank you for the in-depth explanation. Do you speak Japanese?”

“Not a word.”

“I cannot say I am surprised. Your heritage is Russian-Korean, two peoples Japan had treated rather unfairly.”

“Past is past.”

“True, but it is important to consider the faults of our ancestors when the need arises.”

“If that’s case, would you call the Rape of Nanking rather unfair?”

Everyone stopped eating and looked at her with calm shock. Takashi rubbed his eyes while Monty bit his lower lip and looked down. The Shogun pursed his lips and made a shallow grin.

“…Then I beg your pardon as I talk to Takashi-chan in Japanese. We may be American, but we mustn’t lose our language.”

“Don’t let me stop you,” she said grabbing a salmon nigiri, the table still looking at her.

The Shogun looked to Takashi straightening himself out.

“You did well,” he said in Japanese. “Your simple gambit saved lives that would have been lost had our conflict progressed.”

He inclined his head, digging through his memory for how to reply.

“Thank you, Kyrii-sama.”

“Instead, you sacrificed only two, one more than you were ordered to take.”

Suddenly Takashi knew he was in a bad spot.

“I-I didn’t see any other way.”

“That Android was my secretary before she was soul’d. And yet, after gaining her individuality, she decided to stay by my side. She made her own life and you took it for a ploy that was unnecessary.”

“I couldn’t get to Cicero if Kiddo was in the way–“

“–So you devised a distraction to get her arrested in order to kill him afterward? The Trotskys and Deng Chi are morons, but they do not lack finesse in their various schemes. Not only that, but you defied our one condition; no one but Cicero Gorinni dies. Was Montgomery not clear in his instruction?”

Takashi was alone, the whole table looking at him as he searched for an answer that wouldn’t come to mind. He just sat there, red-faced with a sinking feeling in his gut. The Shogun nodded to the Yak with the cutting board before he pushed it toward Takashi.

“You are a proxy, but will pay for your mistake like Yakuza.”

Kiddo didn’t have to know Japanese to understand what was going on. For the first time that morning she was smiling. Then it felt like Christmas when Monty put a knife on the board.

“The small finger on the left,” continued the Shogun. “We will wait.”

With trembling hands he took his time to reach for the knife. Takashi shook even more when he saw his sweaty, scarlet face reflected in the perfect blade. He took longer to place his left hand flat on the board and angle the edge against the second knuckle of his pinky. He winced when the blade broke the skin, not enough to bleed much. Takashi’s shaking made it worse, widening the cut, and creating other scratches.

The whole table waited for him to do it. Kiddo looked like a maniac in a straight jacket, her teeth visible in a grin. Takashi breathed hard when he leaned into the blade. He growled to himself, but all he got for his effort was a deeper cut. Finally he worked up the courage for an old fashion chop, placing just his pinky on the board and raising the knife.

The pinky went spinning upward before rolling onto the polished wood of the table. Takashi did his best to hold in his cry, grabbing the remaining stump with a scrunched face. Kiddo watched him groan before taking another piece of nigiri, trying not to laugh. A few Yaks cleaned up the mess, picking up the finger and wiping the blood with white rags. Two stood and came around behind Takashi to pick up the blade and board, leaving him a cloth.

When the table was clear, the Yak with the ream of paper pushed the stack over.

“Your blood on the line will be sufficient,” said the Shogun.

Kiddo pulled the papers to her side and flipped through them, the text printed in English and Japanese on both halves of each page.

“Profit shares?” she asked.

“Only a 10% percent stake,” he said in English. “No more, no less.”

She put the ream back in front of Takashi. He pulled away the cloth and held his bloody hand over the bottom edge of the paper, a trio of neat crimson droplets hitting right on the line. Monty brought the ream before the Shogun.

“It seems our primary business is concluded. Is their anything more on the agenda?” No one said a word and the Shogun moved to stand. “Then I will bid you two farewell.”

The two Yaks helped him stand while the rest of the table got up. When everyone bowed Kiddo hesitated, her body working against what she actually wanted. Didn’t want to make a deal with the enemy, but she got to see Takashi in pain.

That alone made the Shogun worthy of courtesy.

Our trio returned to the elevator while most of the Yaks filed out of the conference room, Takashi wrapping the cloth around his hand. The Bots were still standing by the door like mechanical art statues. Kiddo slipped into one of her boots before she looked to the Shogun standing by the end of the table.

“I appreciate behaving your self, Kiddo-chan,” he said. “The Nanking remark was unwarranted, but when we are angry, people do what they can to relieve the tension, especially when we are compelled to stay our hand.”

He put his hand out to the Yak at his side before he received a thick envelope. Kiddo caught it after the old man tossed it over.

“A gang is not unlike a real family. There are fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters working together to run a business. Keep in mind, when you feel the urge, that Takashi-chan is my employee, my new adopted son. Should he be parted with his head in the near future, then the Gorinni Family and it’s children will become the Kyrii Family. Understand?”

A bit dramatic for a threat, but Kiddo got the picture and nodded. The Shogun smiled and walked back to the other end of the table, helped along by his people. Before she put on her last boot, Kiddo peaked into the envelope and turned red.

***

Recommended Reading/Viewing/Playing
Blade Runner, Directed by Ridley Scott
Deus Ex: Human Revolution/Mankind Divided, Created by Eidos Montreal
Blade Runner 2049, Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Altered Carbon, Created by Laeta Kalogridis
Ghost in the Shell, Directed by Mamoru Oshii
Neuromancer, By William Gibson
Metropolis, Directed by Rintaro
R.U.R., By Karel Capek
Yojimbo, Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Westworld, Created by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy
A Touch of Evil, Directed by Orson Welles
Battle Angel Alita, By Yukito Kishiro
On the Waterfront, Directed by Elia Kazan

About the Author
C.T. is a Florida native and proud gun owner. He is a fan of all things military, comic books, and a self-proclaimed movie buff. In his off-time C.T. reviews movies on a blog no one reads and writes screenplays that will never get made, but enjoys it nonetheless. He hopes this book thing will actually pay off so he can do it forever.

Neon Oldie #11

Cover11

By
C.T. McMillan
+++

Cover: C.T. McMillan
Model: Megan Crawford (ING: @mleighmoon)

Copyright 2018 by C.T. McMillan
All Rights Reserved
In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the scanning, uploading, and electronic sharing of any part of this book without the permission of the publisher constitute unlawful piracy and theft of the author’s intellectual property. Thank you for your support of the author’s rights.

Also By CT McMillan
Back to Valhalla: A Military Fantasy

Acknowledgments
I could not have come this far without my family encouraging me to pursue my ambition to be a writer.

Dedication
To Razor’ and ’19 for providing inspiration.

***

Packed in like sardines you could cut the tension with a knife and sell the slices for a quarter an ounce. Takashi wore a headset as he drove the hov-car through a cloud. On the windshield vector graphics outlined his flight path and marked passing vehicles in the distance. Farther out it highlighted an oncoming rainstorm and buildings, the proximity scale counting down as he flew closer.

It’s stressful enough flying in Seattle weather, but Takashi had a whole lot more on his mind than safe driving. He couldn’t focus while sat next to an experienced enforcer itching to take his head. Kiddo didn’t look it with her cap and glasses, but he knew; he’d be stupid to think she was just swell after last night. He knew he had to say something.

“I didn’t wanna do it, okay? They didn’t give me an out. It was him or me.”

“If you gave a damn,” she said without turning from the windshield, “you’d given it up.”

“I’m not a friggin’ samurai, Volk. This is real life. Real odds. Real consequences. They would’ve wiped us out if I didn’t cooperate. It’s like you said, you don’t play nice with savages; you be more savage.”

“I didn’t mean to your own people… your own boss. Makes you less than a savage. You’re garbage.”

Takashi sneered.

“Then why don’t you take out the trash? Huh? I lost enough face to earn me a spot beside Judas, Brutus, and all the other famous traitors. Yeah, I’m going straight to Hell, but I’m still breathing. I’m still kicking it like nothing happened. If you’re so much more loyal, more honorable than me, go ahead and do it. I dare you, Volk… You won’t lay another hand on me because you agree. This is real life with real odds and real consequences. Take my head and you lose that precious income. Raising a kid comes with a whole lot of expenditures. Most people are too scared of how much it costs to make babies. Only reason you’re doing it is ‘cause you can afford it…. But by all means; wanna kill me, now’s your chance.”

Takashi took his eyes off the road to see if she’d make a move. Nearly a whole minute she didn’t twitch, not one inch before he turned back.

“Yeah. That’s what I thought.”

What he didn’t see was her fist closed around her sword on the other side of the seat. Her hand shook, but not enough that the servos whined in reply.

 

When China started eating it’s guts after 70 years of peace, a lot of Japs set up shop on the West Coast. The fighting was separated by miles of saltwater, but it scared a good handful of expats and local businesses out of the home islands. America got a massive taste of the Nippon soon after, bringing over their customs, food, and gangs. For corporations that made the move, they had enough money to change the skyline of cities like Seattle.

The Kyrii Engineering tower was a perfect combination of glass and concrete. Sharp ridges and steep angles ran up the sides like spines, bending the late morning light onto itself. The broad sides of the tower faced the Puget Sound to the west and Okanogan-Wenatchee Forest in the east. The bottom third was a parking structure of dull concrete. Just below the tower proper were conveyer platforms extended outward, wide enough for a midsize hov-car.

Takashi followed the blinking lights to one platform as he came in slow. He lined himself according to the lines below and landed with a lurch, the thrusters kicking up dust before they went cold. The conveyer hummed to life and pulled the hov-car into the parking structure.

The interior was round and sectioned off into floors. It took up half the total structure, the bottom made for ground cars. In the center was a rotating arm with a wide wedge between two hydraulic clamps. Once Takashi and Kiddo got out the arm turned to their car. They moved to the right side before the wedge slid under and the clamps closed in snuggly around the vehicle. The arm retracted and lowered into the depths of the structure for an open parking space.

Between two empty platforms sat an elevator encased in concrete where stood Monty with a pair of Bots, your average humanoid automatons. They were naked without plating, showing off black myomer cells and servos attached to polished steel armature. All they had in the way of coverage was a yellow mempo mask and a basic red polymer head chassis. On their hips were telescopic batons where a steady hand rested, ready to be drawn on command.

The Bots’ movements were in synch and totally uniform, keeping the same distance and in step with each as they followed Monty at his rear flanks. They stopped when he met Kiddo and Takashi, his eyes fixed on the latter.

“I knew it.”

“What?” asked Takashi.

Monty dug into his suit jacket and tossed Takashi a black clip-on tie.

“Think this is a videogame? I expect flappers to dress like idiots, but you’re beyond the pale, Sterling. Put it on and try to look professional for once in your life.”

As Takashi turned down his collar, Monty looked to Kiddo.

“I said no weapons.”

“I was just about to say–“

“–Waited the whole flight over, eh Sterling?”

“C’mon, man–”

“–Shut-up.” Monty snapped his fingers and pointed at Takashi. “Sachi.”

The Bots turned their glossy camera eyes to Takashi before he spread his arms and legs. As they patted him down with their skeletal hands, Monty came face to face with Kiddo. He held a hand out and received her sword, his long fingers rotating and turning it over.

“Not a bad conversion,” he said.

“Any idiot can turn an Allen wrench,” she said.

“True, but nothing beats the real thing.”

“It’s just metal with an edge. What matters is how you use it.”

Monty smiled.

“That’s what they all say. What use is talk if you can’t back it up?”

He stared down at himself in the obsidian tint of her glasses. Kiddo took them off so they could have a proper conversation. Not long after the Bots stepped away from Takashi and faced Monty.

“Search complete,” said one in a metallic voice. “Subject clear.”

Neither broke eye contact when Monty returned Kiddo’s sword and did an about-face to the elevator.

“’Ey, that’s not a good idea, Monty,” said Takashi as the Bots followed. “I’m serious–“

“–And I’m serious when I say if you two screw up this meeting, I’ll need an armed opponent.” He tapped the call button while Takashi and Kiddo caught up. “No hats or shoes in the conference room.”

***

Recommended Reading/Viewing/Playing
Blade Runner, Directed by Ridley Scott
Deus Ex: Human Revolution/Mankind Divided, Created by Eidos Montreal
Blade Runner 2049, Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Altered Carbon, Created by Laeta Kalogridis
Ghost in the Shell, Directed by Mamoru Oshii
Neuromancer, By William Gibson
Metropolis, Directed by Rintaro
R.U.R., By Karel Capek
Yojimbo, Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Westworld, Created by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy
A Touch of Evil, Directed by Orson Welles
Battle Angel Alita, By Yukito Kishiro
On the Waterfront, Directed by Elia Kazan

About the Author
C.T. is a Florida native and proud gun owner. He is a fan of all things military, comic books, and a self-proclaimed movie buff. In his off-time C.T. reviews movies on a blog no one reads and writes screenplays that will never get made, but enjoys it nonetheless. He hopes this book thing will actually pay off so he can do it forever.

Neon Oldie #10

Cover10

By
C.T. McMillan
+++

Cover: C.T. McMillan
Model: Megan Crawford (ING: @mleighmoon)

Copyright 2018 by C.T. McMillan
All Rights Reserved
In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the scanning, uploading, and electronic sharing of any part of this book without the permission of the publisher constitute unlawful piracy and theft of the author’s intellectual property. Thank you for your support of the author’s rights.

Also By CT McMillan
Back to Valhalla: A Military Fantasy

Acknowledgments
I could not have come this far without my family encouraging me to pursue my ambition to be a writer.

Dedication
To Razor’ and ’19 for providing inspiration.

***

The echo in the alley made her labored breath sound mechanical, like the noise was fed through a mixer, and looped in a song. Kiddo supported herself on her knees, eyes to the ground. What remained of her gloves held on to her cracked fingers in tatters. When she reached to wipe sweat hanging on her brow, her hand was locked in a claw still holding her knee. The joints whined and the broken plastic plating scratched her skin.

Kiddo pulled her hand away and saw the exposed pulleys that allowed her fingers to move. The hand itself wasn’t overly damage, but the cosmetics were ruined. On the ground she saw bits of ivory plastic scattered by the wall she’d boxed seconds ago. Kiddo’s face scrunched into a grimace before giving her self a hard slap. The next strike to her left was harder and louder, leaving behind a pink handprint. Her lip quivered.

Suka.” She sniveled. “Suka!

She gave herself a few more, trading up to punches with weak fists. It was all her hands could manage.

Suka! Suka! Suka!

The last one nearly knocked Kiddo off her feet. She grabbed a dumpster on the side to stay up, her face red with crimson scratches on her cheeks.

“You coward,” she whispered before standing straight. Kiddo pulled the edge of her coat and wiped down her front side, trying to look as together as possible. “You coward.”

After picking up her cap she left the alley, taking it slow.

 

Enzo turned in bed to the door when Kiddo entered. She quickly closed and locked it so he wouldn’t see her face.

“Sorry I’m late.”

He crawled to the left edge of the bed to meet her, coming to his knees. He didn’t say a word and gave her a long kiss.

“You hungry?”

“No,” she said letting her coat fall to the floor. “I wanna go to bed.”

“Not before you have a bath,” he said kissing her neck and slipping a hand up under her shirt.

She was too distracted to stop Enzo from turning on the light atop the nightstand.

“Oh my god, babe!”

Kiddo tried to cover her face.

“I’m okay–“

He grabbed her hands and looked at them closely.

“Were you in a fight? The plating’s destroyed and the joints are seized up.”

“I- yeah. I got into a scrape. I can still move ‘em.”

The whine of servos said otherwise and Enzo gave her a puppy-dog look. Kiddo turned her guilty face away before he got out of bed and picked her up like a baby. He was naked, his Android body traced with skin-deep lines around the shoulders, chest, hips, and neck.

“No. Please.”

He just smiled and carried her to the tub.

 

Kiddo didn’t have her arms as Enzo dabbed a cotton ball to her cuts. She winced as the disinfectant did its job before he applied a thin white bandage. Half her face was mended while he finished the other. He knelt on the outside of the tub with a first aid kit at his knee as she lay in soapy water.

“Did this guy have glass shards glued to his fists or something?” he asked.

“…No.”

“Probably just your sensitive skin. It’s not as awful as it looks. Swelling won’t be too bad. What’d this guy do?”

“Piss me off.”

Enzo chuckled.

“Not hard to imagine what he looks like, given what happened to your fingers. Should take me an hour to fix.”

“No, babe. You have work in the morning.”

“It’s nothing. I can take care of it after I put you to bed.”

“Please don’t. I’ll manage. I can wear the Cs instead.”

He just smiled and added another bandage.

“If you had a permit, then you could wear the Model Cs.”

After mending the last cut Enzo approached his workbench where his bag sat.

“Wanna take a look the top three?”

Kiddo grimaced to fight the urge to cry.

“Sure.”

He returned with the tablet and knelt behind her, holding it in front. She was thankful he couldn’t see her face.

“See? All blonde and blue-eyed like we want, but only the last guy is willing to sit down and meet. You’re a better judge of character than me. What do you think?”

It felt like they were staring at her. Of course, they kind of were given the way their pictures were shot, but Kiddo could feel those static eyes judging her. They didn’t have to say a word to tell her the same thing she’d been thinking since leaving Le Speak with that wad of cash in her pocket. Tears slipped down her cheeks.

“They’re perfect,” she said before burying her face in his arm.

She didn’t bother to hide anymore, her sob muffled when Enzo put his arms around her.

“Aw, sweetheart–”

“–Cici’s gone.”

Suddenly he realized she wasn’t crying out of joy, pulling her to his shoulder. He let her get it most of it out before opening his mouth.

“Is that why you were all beat up?”

“A hitman plugged him in the club,” she said between snivels. “I chased him down before he got far and… And–“

“–It’s okay. I’m not going anywhere.” He stroked her hair. “What can I do?”

She got a hold of herself.

“…Take me to bed.”

 

After putting on her arms Kiddo lay in bed while Enzo stepped into his coveralls. The lamp at his workbench was still on, his tools and broken parts from her hands scattered about.

“I’m going to leave early,” he said zipping up, “and come by the club. We’ll go home together.”

She was too tired to refuse.

“Okay.”

After slipping into his sneakers Enzo sat on the side of the bed and took her hand, the broken polymer removed from certain sections of her fingers.

“Do you know when the funeral is?”

She shook her head.

“Might be working that out today. I don’t know.”

Enzo nodded and leaned in to kiss her. Kiddo made it last as long as she could, holding him close. He paused and rested his forehead on hers.

“Will you be okay?”

“…Yeah.” She gave him one for the road and let go. “I love you.”

Enzo half smiled.

“Love you too.”

Kiddo didn’t stay in bed once he left. With nothing on she went to her jeans and brought her knife to the workbench. Grabbing an Allen wrench from a set of small drawers she loosened one screw positioned on the narrow sides in the middle of the knife. The bottom half slipped away, revealing a cartridge holding a stack of thin, edged metal sheets inside. Kiddo set the cartridge to the side and reached into the bench’s main drawer.

Among random tools and spare parts sat a long cartridge. It added about seven inches to the knife for a total of ten. The long cartridge was fashioned into the hilt of a katana with a tsukamaki wrap in hard textured rubber. Kiddo took the cartridge and screwed it in place, turning her knife into a sword.

By the time she hung it to her belt it was hours past dawn. Dressed in her usual attire she descended the stoop outside, fresh bandages on her face and gloves to cover her fractured hands. Under her sunglasses she stared at Takashi standing by his hov-car at the bottom in a casual sharkskin suit with a red shirt, collar popped. His blue eye mod was switched to red to match his getup.

Kiddo stopped a few steps from the sidewalk and watched him shake in his shoes.

“Start the car.”

***

Recommended Reading/Viewing/Playing
Blade Runner, Directed by Ridley Scott
Deus Ex: Human Revolution/Mankind Divided, Created by Eidos Montreal
Blade Runner 2049, Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Altered Carbon, Created by Laeta Kalogridis
Ghost in the Shell, Directed by Mamoru Oshii
Neuromancer, By William Gibson
Metropolis, Directed by Rintaro
R.U.R., By Karel Capek
Yojimbo, Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Westworld, Created by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy
A Touch of Evil, Directed by Orson Welles
Battle Angel Alita, By Yukito Kishiro
On the Waterfront, Directed by Elia Kazan

About the Author
C.T. is a Florida native and proud gun owner. He is a fan of all things military, comic books, and a self-proclaimed movie buff. In his off-time C.T. reviews movies on a blog no one reads and writes screenplays that will never get made, but enjoys it nonetheless. He hopes this book thing will actually pay off so he can do it forever.

Neon Oldie #9

Cover9

By
C.T. McMillan
+++

Cover: C.T. McMillan
Model: Megan Crawford (ING: @mleighmoon)

Copyright 2018 by C.T. McMillan
All Rights Reserved
In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the scanning, uploading, and electronic sharing of any part of this book without the permission of the publisher constitute unlawful piracy and theft of the author’s intellectual property. Thank you for your support of the author’s rights.

Also By CT McMillan
Back to Valhalla: A Military Fantasy

Acknowledgments
I could not have come this far without my family encouraging me to pursue my ambition to be a writer.

Dedication
To Razor’ and ’19 for providing inspiration.

***

The girl was rendered in three frames. The first started with a stand and a slightly raised knee, followed by a higher knee with her spiked heel out, and ending with her leg pointed to sky. Her dance blinked with every frame change in orange and red. Beneath her the real merchandise was on display. Against red curtains behind windows the women looked out onto the street, showing off as much skin as legally possible. They were Andies, Flesh, and Modded; every kind to fit any taste.

The hash parlor next door was bleached in green. Perched on balconies, grasshoppers took long pulls from hookahs and hand wrapped joints. The smoke drifting from their lazy maws was colored green by the sign bolted just below the roof. The rest of the street was lined with a garden variety of clubs and bars. There were the usual places mixed in with Goth ballrooms, oldies houses, Steampunk pubs, and pirate themed dives. They flashed their colors toward the packed sidewalks, painting the crowd in shades of neon.

Like I said: you had to wait till dark to see all the color.

Kiddo pushed her way through the drunks and oblivious hipsters, her face locked forward. Le Speak was painted in blue and white, the sign so big it lit the whole face of the building. The line waiting underneath was dressed up like flappers. They weren’t too authentic with designer prints and saturated colors fit for the modern aesthetic.

Takashi stood to the far right of the awning as a large Modded bouncer carded prospective patrons to the left. He was staring at the curb with a cigarette in hand, the paper nearly burned to the filter. Out of his peripheral he spotted Kiddo making her way his direction, the look in her eye like a spotlight in blackness. Takashi flicked the cigarette into the street and put himself in front of her.

“Pink,” he said with his palms out, “think real hard about–“

She walked past him like he wasn’t there, pivoting down the steps to the club beneath the awning. Kiddo almost knocked over a couple moving too slow before she reached the doors.

The kind of crowd that waited in line for hours to buy overpriced cocktails didn’t come to Le Speak for the typical nightclub experience. They couldn’t stand synthesizers, ear-bleeding bass, and pockets of young adults rubbing against each other on the dance floor. No. They came to Le Speak to sit at tall round tables under dim lights for the chaotic sax, bellowing trombone, and drums bashing out an incoherent tune.

The place had plenty of space for Kiddo to work her way to the office. Takashi caught up with her before she was ten feet away from the door.

“You gotta stop and think about what you’re about to do.”

“Already did.”

When she tried to walk around, he moved to block her.

“You’re gonna get more trouble than you can imagine, Pinkerton. The last thing you should do is jump to conclusions that Cici–“

Kiddo shoved him into the packed bar, making a patron spill on herself. Takashi was late on the recovery when she opened the door. Cicero was at his desk crunching the numbers in a book while glancing at a tablet. He looked up to Kiddo with a smile.

“Hey ya, Kiddo! Job done?”

“I don’t know, Boss,” she said taking the chair. “You tell me.”

One of Cicero’s sharp eyebrows went crooked before he put down his pen and closed the book. Takashi busted into the office, looking like he was expecting a scene from a horror movie.

“Tak,” said Cicero, “would you mind shutting the door and standing by? I get the feeling Pink’s got something on her mind.”

Takashi swallowed hard and closed the door on his way to Cicero’s rear flank.

“Okay. We’re all ears. How’d it go with the stooly?”

Kiddo leaned forward, resting her elbow on one knee and holding herself up on the other, her eyes daggers pointed square at Cicero’s.

“Someone got to her before me and put a hole in her face.”

Cicero didn’t move a muscle.

“Huh.”

“Yeah. Couldn’t get a single line of code from what was left.”

“That puts us in quite a pickle. Now the Yaks have god-knows-what on us and we’re left with our trousers round our ankles. I take it you wanna know who pasted her, right?”

“I have an inkling.”

“Would love to hear it.”

“…Okay,” she said grabbing her knife. “While I was tracking down the stooly, you cut a deal with the Shogun. Maybe you got scared about what that Andie broad was going to leak and decided to bend the knee. Only problem is you knew I’d kill half our own boys before I bowed to friggin’ Japs. So, you staged a murder to peg me for the fall guy to get snatched by the cops. My guess is you told Tak to plug her and lie to me over the phone.”

Takashi’s face turned scarlet.

“I didn’t–“

Cicero put up his hand to shut him up.

“Once I was outta the way,” she went on, “you and your new friends could move forward unchallenged. But here I am, Cici.”

“…And here you are, Pink.”

Cicero had a smirk on his face since she started talking. It bent into a small smile when he took off his glasses and interlocked his fingers on the desktop.

“’Member when we first met?”

She gave him a slow nod.

“I was checking on an arrival of pills at the docks from Nampo. The boys cracked open the box and out you came, biting at ‘em like a rabid dog. Somehow ya got in with the merch and survived the whole trip across the pond and put two of my people in the hospital. My first thought was to turn you over to the state an’ let ‘em deal with it, but when you looked at me, I knew I found someone special. Those wild blue eyes of yours lookin’ at me were like an epiphany from the Almighty.”

As he talked, Kiddo realized she’d done wrong.

“I had a use for a crazy Russo-Nork bitch like you. All ya needed was a bit of elbow grease. People called me nuts for how much I was spending on ya. Even this guy,” he said gesturing Takashi, “barely a hair on his sack at the time, was telling me you were a bad investment. But I took the time and money to sharpen you up into a proper Gorinni. I got ya good an’ clean, citizenship with a new name, and fresh arms right from the factory floor. That’s lot of dough to spend on one person in short period of time, more than I spend on my own kids, for Christ’ sake.

“Now let me ask you this: knowing how much I poured into making you my best bruiser, why would I throw that away to submit to the Yaks? Do you think I would ever make a deal with those jerks while I have the biggest chunk of the town in my pocket? Doesn’t make whole lot of sense, does it?”

Like flipping a switch she went humble, dropping the knife with bright red cheeks. Kiddo sat back in the chair, her eyes on the verge of spilling over.

“I-I…I–“

“–I forgive you, Kiddo. You were just following your instinct. That’s why I keep ya around.”

She wiped her eyes on her sleeve.

“But I came here to kill you.”

Cicero chuckled.

“Who hasn’t? The only difference is you bothered to say your piece and hear my side. You may be vicious, but ya got enough sense to think twice.”

Kiddo sniffled and returned her knife to her belt.

“I’m sorry, Cici. I’m so sorry.”

“No more apologies,” he said sitting up straight. “We gotta get to the bottom of this ASAP.”

She made a quick nod.

“Right. Okay.”

“Now, the only people who knew about our stooly problem was us. Is that right?” he asked looking to Takashi.

He replied with a nod as he unbuttoned his jacket.

“Yep.”

“There was that footie I sent to take over after I was relieved,” said Kiddo, “but I never told him what was going on. And we don’t give the lower ranks firearms.”

“Was he keeping track of who was coming in an’ outta that place?” asked Cicero.

Kiddo touched her chin then dug through her pocket for her phone.

“Let me get him on horn. See if he remembers–“

The spray was near burning hot when it splashed across her forehead. To cooled instantly, creeping down her furrowed brow as it slowly coagulated. The thump made Kiddo jump in her seat, but it was Cicero hitting the desktop that made her go statue. All she could see was his head lying on the desk, blood pooling atop the leather desk pad. Soon the whole picture came into view with Takashi holding a suppressed pistol where Cicero’s head used to be.

He broke the silence with a sigh.

“Wow. I really screwed this one up.”

He holstered the pistol into his jacket before daintily picking Cicero’s upper body off the desk.

Everything but her eyes struggled to catch up with her brain. Kiddo’s lips started to quiver when she found the strength to speak.

“What did you do?”

Takashi looked only a tad guilty when he glanced from his cleanup.

“It was me. I cut a deal with the Yaks in exchange for Cici’s life. They agreed to let us keep our territory and run our operations for a 10% cut. I killed the stooly to get you snatched by the cops so I could keep you outta the way until I saw fit. Obviously, that didn’t happen.”

Kiddo kept her gaze on the bloodstain before a blue handkerchief wiped it up in long strokes. It gave her time to focus on him.

“When you escaped the guys Mitty sent over, I thought I could exploit that Pinkerton rage. Over the phone it sounded like you thought Cici put together the frame and were out for his blood. Seemed like I was on to something until he had you near bawling like a baby.”

The only sounds she made came from whining servos as she held a pair of tight fists and a squeak of her gloves reaching their breaking point.

“Usually some of the best outcomes come from botched jobs,” said Takashi taking Cicero’s seat. “I was gonna ask you when you were behind bars, but I don’t have much a choice. I need a good right-hand-gal to help deal with whatever comes up. Someone who knows their stuff; preferably someone I know can get the job done no matter what. How ‘bout it, Kiddo? Wanna help me run the Family?”

The servos made a pathetic revving sound when she relaxed her hands, struggling to make the simplest of motions. Kiddo looked at her faux leather gloves, the material crumbled with a split seams. Her phone was sitting on her thigh, the screen facing up. She saw her bloodstained forehead in the reflection and her cheeks wet with fresh tears.

“What do you say, Kiddo?”

The blood rushed to her face.

“…You should’ve kept your gun out.”

Takashi was too slow when her chair flipped backwards. Kiddo launched herself over the desk and pinned him to the bookcase, knocking over the chair. One hand on his neck she drew her knife.

“Okay! Okay! Go easy, man–“

“Long past the point of easy, Tak. I would’ve liked the sound of your offer without the gunshot.”

“I had no choice! They wanted him outta the picture for good. No other option.”

“In Pyongyang there were plenty of options; just had to learn ‘em. I didn’t have arms, so I had to learn a lot.” With a stiff jerk Kiddo slammed Takashi onto the desk, leaning hard with her knee to his chest so he wouldn’t move. “You had every opportunity to fight back and it looks to me like you didn’t even try. They must’ve scared you good.”

She made sure he saw the knife upside-down in her hand before resting the edge on his throat.

“The worst part is you didn’t think how this would destroy your honor.”

Takashi’s eyes darted back and forth, trying to find the right answer.

“Think about Enzo! Your trip to San Fran! How’re you gonna get your hefty bonus if you kill your boss?”

That last word was all it took. Kiddo’s eyes went wide as she bared her teeth in a hard grimace. Her other hand pressed to Takashi’s forehead, she twisted her body to raise the blade to the side, her aim fixed on his Adam’s apple. She would have sliced all they way through if her phone didn’t start to vibrate.

It’d landed on the corner of the desk when she dove. As it rang the screen was alight with the photo of Enzo smiling with Kiddo’s lips to his cheek. She couldn’t take her eyes off the image, still holding Takashi. You could see the fury slowly drain from her face, leaving a solid bleak mask. It felt like a hole was suddenly bored into her chest, like a piece of her spirit evaporated into nothing.

Kiddo’s body was stubborn, her knife hand shaking as it relaxed to her side. Takashi was bug-eyed when she pulled her other hand away to pick up the phone. With a tap of her thumb the vibration ended.

“Hey,” she managed with a low tone.

I just got home,” said Enzo. “Long day.

“…Yeah,” she said pulling her knee away from Takashi. “Me too.”

He dropped to his hands and knees, trying to catch his breath.

Are you almost done?

Kiddo looked down at her knife.

“Nearly, babe.” She retracted the blade.

Okay. So, I went through the list and brought it down to three. They fit our preferences, but only one is open to meeting in person.

As he spoke, Kiddo walked back to her seat, Takashi straightening himself out on his feet.

“That’s fine. I’ll take a look when I get home.”

Are you alright? You sound a little lethargic–”

“–Just worn out is all.”

Okay. I’ll be waiting when you get back. Love you.

Kiddo turned to Takashi putting a small ream of hundred dollar bills on the desk. She looked at Benjamin Franklin staring back and couldn’t say a word.

***

Recommended Reading/Viewing/Playing
Blade Runner, Directed by Ridley Scottt
Deus Ex: Human Revolution/Mankind Divided, Created by Eidos Montreal
Blade Runner 2049, Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Altered Carbon, Created by Laeta Kalogridis
Ghost in the Shell, Directed by Mamoru Oshii
Neuromancer, By William Gibson
Metropolis, Directed by Rintaro
R.U.R., By Karel Capek
Yojimbo, Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Westworld, Created by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy
A Touch of Evil, Directed by Orson Welles
Battle Angel Alita, By Yukito Kishiro
On the Waterfront, Directed by Elia Kazan

About the Author
C.T. is a Florida native and proud gun owner. He is a fan of all things military, comic books, and a self-proclaimed movie buff. In his off-time C.T. reviews movies on a blog no one reads and writes screenplays that will never get made, but enjoys it nonetheless. He hopes this book thing will actually pay off so he can do it forever.