“For the last time,” Decker demanded, “where are you taking me?”
Jack Archer stopped abruptly and turned, his horrid insect-like goggles making the Captain shudder.
“You ask me that again, mate,” he drawled, “and you’ll be lying in the gutter with a bullet in your guts before you know what happened. So kindly stop whining. I’ve got an itchy trigger finger.”
Decker glared at him, but said nothing more.
“Anyway,” the Saboteur continued, “you’ll see where we’re bound soon enough. I’ve got a little lesson planned for you, and I’ve got it on good authority that it’ll be an eye-opener.”
“That’s all well and good,” Decker hissed, “but you really must stop doing this. Ambushing me without warning after dark like a common thief. When you did it this evening, I almost shouted for the police.”
“So you’re an idiot and a coward. This isn’t news to me, Decker.”
“Stop it. This is serious. I’m just starting to get noticed at the 43rd, and the last thing I need is to look suspicious.”
“You’re right. This is serious. Those officers must be proper fools to give a rat like you respect. I thought you said your Chief was a blind old bat who couldn’t find his ass with both hands.”
“Calvin’s not the problem now. There’s a new man: a politician by the name of Stevens. He replaced the Chief, and now he’s calling the shots. If I’m not careful…”
“Stevens, eh?” the Saboteur mused. “I wouldn’t worry too much about him if I was you, guv’nor. You could say him and I have us an understanding.”
“Wait,” said Decker, stunned. “Understanding? You mean he’s one of yours?”
“Of course he’s one of mine!” Archer snapped. “Are you really so thick that you still believe there’s anything that happens on this street without my hand in it? I’ve got more friends than any politician or thug for a hundred miles, which makes me infinitely more popular than you. So you just keep that in mind if you ever think about crossing me.”
“Now look,” said Decker, stopping and crossing his arms obstinately. “I’ve had it up to here with your threats and your abuse, and as far as I can tell, I don’t have to take them. So you can either start treating me like an adult rather than a mewling child, or you can find someone else to feed you police information.”
“I guess I was wrong about you, Decker. You do have guts. It’s too bad I can’t say the same about brains. I only treat you like a child because you are one, and a pathetic one at that. And ‘as far as you can tell’? Was blowing up a whole theater of fine, upstanding citizens not impressive enough for you?”
“So what? They probably didn’t seem like people at all to you.”
“You’re right about that,” Archer hissed. “They weren’t people. They were pigs, every last one of them.”
“Murder’s a much more personal crime,” said Decker. “Most people can’t find it in themselves to end someone else’s life. So why should I believe you can?”
“What’s your point?”
“My point is I could leave you any time I wanted, and you would be powerless to stop me. And if you ever tried to send your so-called ‘friends’ after me, I could simply expose you.”
“And get yourself into hot water right along with me? I don’t buy it,” Archer said.
“Me? I could say that I had no idea you were planning to blow up that theater, and they have no evidence to prove otherwise. Hell, I don’t even know you actually did it. It was probably just some of your lackeys. And since you’re a conspirator to mass murder, I’m sure I would have no trouble making a deal with the council to prevent you from carrying out another horrific act.”
The Saboteur smirked.
“You think you’re pretty smart, don’t you, Decker?”
“Only compared to some,” said the Captain evenly. “Without me, you’d never know what the 43rd has been up to these past few months, and even with your pal Stevens in charge, you still won’t have ears where it matters: among the officers, telling you who’s loyal and who’s going to make trouble. So face it, Archer. You need me.”
“I need you like I need a hole in my skull. You think you’re the only two-bit crooked cop in this city?” The dark man turned sharply into an alleyway. “If you do, then you really are stupid.”
“You’re still just talking,” said Decker, following him. “That’s all you ever do: just talk, talk, talk.”
“I’m done talking,” said Archer, drawing the policeman’s gaze with a gesture. “Now I’m showing.”
On the ground in front of them, slumped with his back against the alley wall, was a pale and thin man clad all in black. The stranger’s fearful gaze snapped up at them. He was breathing heavily, and Decker couldn’t help but notice the blood-soaked hand pressed to his stomach.
“Who is this man?”
“You know, I couldn’t say, exactly,” Archer said. “Just one of those lackeys you mentioned. I don’t really make it my business to learn names.”
“He’s injured,” said Decker. “What happened to him?”
“Your grasp of the painfully obvious never fails to amaze me, guv’nor. And since you’re so concerned, let’s just say this gentleman here disappointed me today. Really let me down something awful. And on such a simple job, too. Shame.”
“You still haven’t proved anything, you know,” said the Captain stubbornly. “How do I know you did this? Give me some proof. That is, if you’ve got it. Which I doubt.”
“Who says I stuck him?” Archer shot back. “I didn’t need to. This here idiot couldn’t even win a fight with a stupid, half-drunk sod of a cop. The one that was in all the papers.”
Decker’s jaw dropped.
“Wait a moment. McKenna? You don’t mean Paddy McKenna?”
“Yeah, that’s the bugger’s name, all right. McKenna.”
“I don’t believe it,” Decker breathed. “That boob came barging into the precinct this morning raising hell about how he’d been attacked on the street in the dead of night. Claimed the fellow pulled a knife on him longer than his arm. Stevens had him thrown out for disorderly conduct.”
“Well, you can put your mind at ease,” said Archer, bending over to pick up a glittering sword at least three feet long and spotted with crimson from the dirty cobblestones, “because that Irish bug was telling the truth. Not that anyone’s going to believe it.”
The policeman’s eyes widened as the dark man braced the weapon’s tip against the alley wall and pushed its concealed button, collapsing the segmented blade into itself and leaving behind an innocuous-looking knife that the Saboteur concealed in his cloak. The man on the ground moaned in fear.
“But why kill McKenna?” Decker asked, confused. “Not that I’m disappointed, mind you, but what’s that bum got to do with any of this?”
“He’s digging into things, mate,” Archer growled. “And I can’t have it. People around here are going to learn that no good comes from sticking your bloody sniffer into Jack Archer’s business.”
“And what business would that be?”
“None of yours, you sniveling sod.”
“Call me names all you want,” said Decker, “but if you’re trying to send me a message, you’re not doing a very good job. What are you going to do about it?”
“I’ll kill the bastard, that’s what!”
“Will you? Because the more you talk, the more you prove me right.”
The Saboteur’s lip curled.
“All right then, Kaiser Wilhelm,” he said sarcastically. “If you’re the expert on putting your money where your mouth is, then show me how it’s done. Why don’t you kill him?”
“Wouldn’t that be nice. But for the sake of argument, let’s start with this fellow here.”
Too weak to stand, the injured man shrank into himself, whimpering pathetically.
“Here,” said the Saboteur, pulling a revolver from his hip and shoving it into Decker’s hands. “The bullets in this gun are coated with poison. If one of these buggers so much as scratches you, it’ll take hours, maybe even days for you to die. Even if you’re a lousy shot–which I can only guess that you are–it shouldn’t be a problem.”
“Don’t play games,” said Decker, holding the gun away from himself like a dead fish.
“What’s the matter, Decker? Not going soft, I hope. Especially after that nice little speech you gave me a moment ago. Well?”
“It’s just…” Decker stammered. “I can’t. Maybe I’m helping you with whatever it is you’re up to, but that’s different. This…” He swallowed hard. “If anyone found out…I just don’t think…”
“That’s the difference between you and me, mate,” Archer sneered, swiping the gun out of Decker’s hands and training it on the moaning man on the ground. “You think. I act.”
There was a loud report, and the injured main howled in agony as the bullet lodged itself in his guts. Before Decker could blink, he was staring down the enormous black hole now aimed directly between his eyes.
The Saboteur grinned as he pulled the hammer back again.
“The ironic thing about it is that I would’ve killed him whether he did over your friend McKenna or not,” he continued. “Personally, I don’t think he’d squeal, but we just can’t take that chance, now can we?”
“We should go,” said Decker. “Someone might have heard that shot, and God help me if another officer saw…”
His mouth snapped shut as the gun’s muzzle pressed against his forehead.
“I like where we are just fine, thanks. Now, what say you and I make a little bet? I’m of a mind that he’ll bleed out first before the poison gets him. Care to stay and find out?”
“All right, all right!” said Decker, raising his hands in surrender. “You made your point. Now can we please leave?”
The Saboteur spat, as if disgusted by the speed of the Captain’s change of heart, and then whipped the gun down to the pavement at Decker’s feet and blasted off a shot. The policeman screamed like a schoolgirl as the bullet ricocheted off the ground and drilled a hole through a nearby trash bin.
“You lunatic!” he cried. “You could have killed me!”
“Could have,” Archer agreed coldly. “Fortune favors the foolish. At least, that’s what they say.”
The dying man next to them let out another groan.
“Oh, shut your bloody gob,” snapped the Saboteur, and with a bang put a third slug through the assassin’s brain.
He turned back to Decker, who was quaking with fear and vigorously debating his chances of survival if he tried to make a run for it.
“I trust I’ve made my point abundantly clear, Decker. If you ever fail me, try to trick me, or if I ever even suspect you might’ve spilled about our little arrangement, there will be no place in the world you can hide. I will get away, I will find you, and I will kill you. Slowly. You reading me?”
The Captain wordlessly bobbed his head.
Palming his weapon, Archer turned and strode out of the alley.
“Right. Pleasant dreams, guv’nor. I’ll be seeing you soon.”
“What about McKenna?” Decker blurted out. “Are you going to send someone else after him?”
“A bumbling Irish cop who claims someone’s trying to off him is a drunken fool. A bumbling Irish cop who claims someone’s trying to off him and then dies…that’s a victim. I had one chance to get that bastard out of my hair permanently, and I let someone else cock it up. But it doesn’t matter. This McKenna bloke is nothing. He’ll be out of the way soon enough.”
“Well, I’ll be sure to keep you posted on that one. Now bugger off.”
“Wait!” said Decker, taking a few tentative steps forward. “I have to know. Why did you bomb that theater? How come you’re so interested in the Showstopper case? Just what is your plan, anyway?”
“Lesson for the day, Decker,” the Saboteur replied darkly. “Some men don’t have plans.”
Beneath the high collar and goggles, his mouth drew into a hard line.
“Some men just want to light a match and watch it all burn.”
You can find the full version of Kyle Robertson’s debut novel, “The Showstopper!”, available online at Amazon or on Kindle.