The treacherous Rocky Mountain road wasn’t in the best of shape. Regretfully, Cain kept his mustang convertible reined in as honking assailed him. He glanced at the rearview mirror and saw a mustard yellow truck with an extended cab containing an extra seat. Two young men and a woman were inside, swilling beer like it was free. The way-too-cheery pickup rode his bumper impatiently. Since there was no room for passing, Cain couldn’t let the jerks by, even if he’d wanted to.
As the honking continued, the situation edged across the line from annoying to intolerable. Cain entertained visions of bloody carnage to brighten his mood. Would it be so wrong, he asked the dark shadows in his soul, to pistol-whip the driver into a vegetative state? He might enjoy sucking on a straw for the rest of his life. Never can tell.
Belatedly, it occurred to him that this might be a modern day highway robbery. The casinos back at Black Hawk had been most kind; his pockets bulged with cash. Someone might have noticed—-someone too fond of easy money.
Maybe I should let them know how dangerous it is to inflict their stupidity on others.
A nickel-plated Colt .45 lay between his legs, under the seat. Leaning forward, it would only take a moment to retrieve the weapon, and he did have a permit in the glove box. But he didn’t want undue attention; the people he was coming out to see wouldn’t appreciate it. Besides, if word got out that O Scorpion was in Angel Vista, property values were sure to plummet, strong men would faint in the street, babies might cry. Most police organization considered him a “Person Of Interest” though nothing had ever been proved against him. It was all rather inconvenient at times.
The driver behind him launched another chorus of honking and Cain decided that restraint was overrated. He leaned forward and snatched up the weapon, holding it up in the air for the people in the truck to see. They backed off a little and the horn went silent.
With a regretful sigh, he put the weapon back. Another time, he promised the Colt.
Fortunately for the tailgaters, he was getting close to a main highway. He saw it ahead coming out of a turn. Feeding the vehicle a little gas, he surged ahead. At the intersection, a quick glance told him the coast was clear, so he wrenched the wheel and stomped manfully on the accelerator to pull away. The distance widened between vehicles. The truck did its best to keep up, but he Cain had far more than the standard engine under his hood.
Rounding a hillside, he saw Angel Vista spread out below him. It wasn’t much to write home about, not that he ever did that. The place was central Colorado’s version of Palm Springs, a place where the old go to die and the young quickly escape. Most of the businesses here service and health related. Fortunately, his goal, Wild Bill’s new digs, lay well outside the city, past Mammoth Gorge, home of the world’s longest suspension bridge; he saw a billboard for the place and another offering an old-time train ride through the bottom of the gorge. Yeah, I’m going to pay fifty dollars to ride a chew-chew and eat tiny portions of over-prepared food.
His phone chimed. He fished it out of a pocket and answered, steering one-handed. “Yeah?”
A small, relentless voice filled his ear with Portuguese. Where possible, he replied in short bursts. “No! It’s her problem… Let her fix it… I’m not even in town, you evil dwarf! How can it be my fault?” He shouldn’t have asked. The answer drilled into his brain for the next few minutes. At last, he interrupted the tirade with a bestial growl. “One of these days,” he promised, “I’m going to squash you like a bug, a small, tiny, freakin’ bug!”
He saw a flashing blue light in his rear-view mirror. A cop wanted to pull him over. Cain sighed. His tone turned mild, “Gotta go. I’ll call you later. Huh? Yeah, Mom, I love you too.”
He put the phone away while pulling over to the curb. The police car pulled in behind him. The cop made no immediate effort to get out. Cain knew that the officer was running his license, checking to see if the car was hot, standard law-enforcement procedure. Eventually, the cop approached, a hand on his holstered gun, the usual precaution. “License and registration,” he requested.
Cain already had them in hand, anticipating the request. He smiled pleasantly, handing them over. “What’s the problem officer?”
“You were talking on your cell phone while driving. That’s a violation of city ordinances.” The man produced a pad and began to fill out a ticket.
“You’ve gotta be kidding? You can tell I’m from out of state. How am I supposed to know about some whack local ordinance?”
“Ignorance of the law is no excuse.”
“But it’s not like you have it posted anywhere. How about
just letting me off with a warning?”
“Sorry.” The cop didn’t look it. “I’ve got a quota to fill. You can take care of this at the courthouse or just mail us a check at the address on the ticket.” He handed it over without an ounce of warmth or personality.
Cain put away ID and registration without further argument, tossing the ticket into the back floorboard with many others. He’d take this to the highest court in the nation if he had to. It would give his high-paid attorneys something to do until the next time he was charge with murder by some anal prosecutor who wanted to hog all the criminals for himself.
The ugly yellow pickup returned, slowing as it passed. The occupants laughed at his misfortune. That’s all right, Cain promised. You’ll get yours. What comes around goes around, until it gets your balls in a vise.
He started the motor back up and continued on. A winding road took him past an old prison that had been closed, then reopened as a historical curiosity. He passed a drive-in, and then his the city limits. Opening the vehicle up, he tore down a highway past desolate spaces.
The next ten miles went quickly. Beyond a sparse grove of penon trees, he found a dirt track. It took him to a rough wooden gate. He leaped out of the vehicle to open it, drove through, then stopped again to close up again. Back in the mustang, he wound around serpentine curves, trailing a cloud of dust.
A split-level ranch house, sprawling in the sun, came into view. A mutt that looked part coyote lounged on the front deck. It lifted its head and stared with lazy interest. Way to side of the main house were several trailers. And the yellow truck. Cain smiled briefly seeing it, then concentrated on parking between a black van and a pair of Harleys. Getting out, he left his gun where it was. He shouldn’t need it here--the ranch was owned by a friend.
The front door opened and a giant of a man in jeans and black tee shirt stepped out. His forearms were covered in a variety of interesting tattoos, his own designs, and one hand held a magazine. The man grinned and waved. “C’mon in, Cain. I thought you’d never get here. Got something to show you.”
He climbed the porch steps and patted the dog, as it came up to him, tail wagging. Addressing the animal, Cain pointed at his car, “Watch my wheels.” He then went to the door, catching Wild Bill‘s gaze. “The new design is finished?”
“Uh-huh. It’s in the studio, but I‘m talkin‘ about this.” Wild Bill thrust an open magazine in his face, showing him a full-page spread. “They published our tats,” the big man‘s voice bristled with pride.
Cain looked. There were photos of him, head looking away so that he was hard to recognize, but the ink work was unique. One photo captured the tribal markings his back and shoulders.
Another caught the scorpion with the Tao symbol nestled in a curved poised tail. A torso shot showed off the medieval dragon on his abs. A shoulder shots contained vampire skulls and an succubus. One arm had a fire-wreathed stylized cross. The other had the Chinese lettering on the forearm that said “nightmare’s master”. Cain was a living canvas and Wild Bill his preferred artist.
Entering the ranch house, Cain closed the magazine and checked its cover; Modern Ink. He handed back the publication. “You’re going to get as famous as me if you’re not careful,” Cain warned.
“Fine with me,” Wild Bill said. “This kind of thing helps my trade and I’ve got a new mortgage to pay, new girlfriend too. Come meet Cindy.” He led the way toward the kitchen.
“By the way,” Cain kept his voice innocent. I noticed you got your own trailer park going.”
“Yeah, some of the guys from my bike club are squatting there--until they piss me off.”
“Saw an expensive yellow truck down there. A biker’s driving that?”
“Hell, no,” Wild Bill said. “Damn spankin’ ugly ain’t it? Belongs to a kid who’s been pestering me for ink. He came down here today, hoping you wouldn’t show, I expect, says he’s a better subject for me with a higher tolerance for pain, and is likely to be around a lot longer than you.”
“You didn’t buy that crap, of course.”
Wild Bill stopped and glared out from under bushy eyebrows, tilting his head down. “Do I look stupid to you? The kid ain’t gonna live much longer if he don’t get some judgment to go with his pride and swelled-headedness. I told him as much yesterday when I tossed him bodily off my porch. You got an interest in him?”
“Kid worked hard to make a pest of himself while I was dealing with a bad mountain road. He got on my nerves. I figure he‘ll do it again.”
Wild Bill laughed. “Okay, do what you gotta, but keep the bloodshed outside. My carpets were just cleaned.”
“You have my word of honor,” O Scorpion promised.
They entered the kitchen and Cain stopped in shock. Cows were everywhere. Bovine salt and peppershakers regarded him with sad eyes on a red and white check tablecloth. The knob on the sugar bowl was a cow‘s head. There were dozens of cow magnets on the fridge. The napkin holder was a hand painted
wooden cow. Even the potholders by the stove were black and white mottled, the colors of a dairy animal. He thought for a moment that he’d fallen into some sick and twisted version of the Twilight Zone.
“You get used to it--eventually,” Wild Bill muttered. “Cindy likes it. I try to keep her happy ‘cause she keeps me happy. Know what I mean?”
The lady under discussion had her back to them, doing dishes wearing a headset connected to a MP3-CD player clipped to her belt. She hummed an off-key pop tune with reckless abandon. The sound was enough to peal paint off a wall. She lacked all trace of musical ability and didn‘t seem to care who knew it.
Cain forced a friendly smile in place, reminding himself of his promise; no bloodshed in the house. His discomfort however didn’t keep him from noticing that the frizzy twenty-something blonde might have just stepped out of the pages of a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. Her very brief cut-offs and tube top left little to the imagination, and Cain approved of every glorious inch.
Most men will put up with quite a lot for that, he reckoned.
Wild Bill went up and hugged the little lady, letting her know she had an audience. She made a startled sound and hopped in place a little. Wiping her hands on a towel, she receiving a long lingering kiss, her just tribute, then slid the headphones down until they hung on the graceful column of her neck. Faint and tinny, Cain could now hear some of the music she’d been listening to. It was off-key as well; alternative crap.
Cain got tired of waiting for them to come up for air. He spoke to remind them that they had company, “C’mon you guys, get a room, huh?”
Wild Bill broke off, turning with a laugh, swinging Cindy around with him so Cain could see her best features. Either nature had been uncommonly kind, or the rack before him had been enhanced through the wonders of cosmetic surgery. Either way, he wasn’t about to complain. Of course, this was Wild’s Bill’s woman, so Cain made a point of not drooling openly. He smiled warmly and nodded as her eyes grew large with excitement.
She pointed at Cain like he was a fur coat in a store window. “It’s him!” she squealed. “It’s really him!”
“Sometimes, I can’t believe it myself,” Cain admitted, grinning. He was glad not to get the other reaction; I thought you’d be taller! Cindy ran over to him and wrapped her arms around him in a hug that buried his face in her bountiful chest. Ah, heaven! I think I’m the perfect height. He never let his small frame stop him from wringing the most out of life. And what he lacked in raw muscle, he made up for in blinding speed and sheer aggression.
It’s the biggest heart that wins the fight, not the biggest beast, and my heart‘s a monstrous son of a bitch.
Hearing snarls and barking, Cain obeying his instincts, broke from the clench, and darted to the front porch. Exploding out the door, he saw the dog sitting quietly by the mustang. The driver’s door was open, his Colt .45 lying in the dust. Cain looked around, but saw no sign of anyone. He strolled over, picked up his weapon, and studied the ground.
It was disturbed by signs of a struggle and a small splatter of blood. The dog had left its mark on someone. Cain had a very good idea who that was. He patted the animal on the head. “Thanks, guy. I owe you a steak.” The dog WOOFED in agreement.
Wild Bill and Cindy joined him. “What’s going on?” the big man asked.
“Dog saw a weasel.” Cain closed the car door and slid the gun into his waistband. “I knew there was one about.”
“A weasel? Really?” Cindy said.
“Yeah,” Wild Bill rumbled, “the two-legged kind.”
“It’s all right.” Cain smiled. “I’m good at pest control. Just leave this me. Now, you said you had that new design ready. How about giving me a look?”
Wild Bill nodded and smiled back, though his eyes were stormy with indignation. He obviously took the hassling of his customers very personally. “Right this way. Just finished the last touches this morning. I think you’ll like it.”
Cindy left them to their business and Cain soon found himself in an oak-paneled office. There was a desk with a computer, an art scanning copy machine, and a printer attached. Another corner held a slanted table, lit from within, wit ha light-rimmed magnifying glass suspended over it to help with detailed work.
“I don’t understand,” Wild Bill said. I had them right there, clamped to the drawing board, a black and white and a full-color version. Someone took ‘em.”
“Cindy?” Cain guessed?
“No. She knows better. Messin’ with my work is why I got rid of my last girlfriend.”
Cain went cold with controlled fury. The missing artwork was meant to be a thing of beauty, tying him to Iris forever, a commitment etched into his flesh; the Reaper with a blood-soaked scythe, extending a flower, an iris of course, with extreme foreshortening to make it seem as if the bloom were lifted straight off his skin.
Sure, he still looked when some pretty young thing sashayed by. He was faithful, not blind. But that didn’t mean he touched. Iris was the only woman he’d ever met that could make him think about settling down, even though their avocations clashed. He was a merciless instrument of God’s justice, and she a vigilante-hating homicide cop. It tended to create awkwardness.
He’d come here to do this thing for Iris, upping the ante in their relationship, proving his love through a gesture of pain and blood. Someone was screwing around with something sacred, and he knew who it had to be!
My would-be nemesis is going to learn that hell hath no fury like a scorpion deprived of a romantic gesture. The only question is; what does he love the most? Whatever it is, he’s about to lose it.
“Why are you smiling like that?”
“Just thinkin’ happy thoughts, that’s all. Why?”
“It’s kinda creepy.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
Cain walked the property, met the other residents, and passed the time in idle chatter, gathering intelligence. He confirmed his guesses about the best buttons push on his intended victim, and learned his real name too, Travis Pepper. Cain understood why the kid preferred the street name Golden Boy--a lot of wishful thinking there.
He borrowed a sledge hammer from A guy called Thumper, then extracted a katana from his mustang’s trunk, taking them to an open barren spot down by Golden Boy’s too-bright yellow truck. Stripping down to the waist, he began a warrior’s dance, losing himself in spontaneous movements, creating a sword kata as he went along that few masters could have matched. Slowly at first, Cain sliced up the air, and countless imaginary foes. The blade wasn’t simply an instrument of death in his hands, but a living extension of his body and mind--he never forgot that he himself was the true weapon.
His presence soon attracted attention. Folks from the trailers came drifting out, Golden Boy among them, wearing half-gloves, as if to cover up a dog bite on one hand. With the audience chilling off to the side, many clutching beers, Cain increased his speed, adding flashy dramatic spins and leaps that would have gotten him killed in a real fight.
From the assorted oohs and ahs, he knew he was putting on an impressive show. He’d know this by looking Golden Boy if nothing else; the kid was simmering in irritation-spawned anger since he could never be the life of this party.
Yeah, suffer punk! Eat your heart out. It takes more than a will to be stupid to be me. You gotta be able to put your sword where your mouth is. Time for a showstopper.
Cain called out, never losing the smooth flow of his movements. “Yo, Thumper!”
“Huh?” the man answered, a drained beer bottle clutched in one hand.
"Toss that empty in the air over my head.”
Thumper did as asked. The brown bottle flipped in flight, arcing closer. Cain caught it with the tip of his sword in the bottles mouth, balancing it a moment before flicking it up in the air. Before the empty could hit the ground, the katana blurred. Two cleanly severed halves of bottle plopped onto the dusty ground. Wild applause broke out.
“Man!” Thumper said. “I don’t see how that’s even possible. It breaks the laws of physics, man!”
Cain grinned. “Breakin’ laws is what I do; it’s who I am.”
“Yeah,” Golden Boy yelled, “Break this!” He snatched up three bottles, getting an indignant curse from one guy who’d just opened his. Hurled in succession, all three bottles came in fast.
Cain launched himself and met the attack with no waste of motion. He let the first bottle get past his head. A whipping motion of his blade shattered that bottle and the second in a single stroke. His right hand came off the hilt and caught the third bottle. He popped the cap and took a long pull of its amber goodness.
“Thanks. I was working up a thirst.” He drained the beer and sighed with pleasure—forever winning over the crowd; he could see it in their faces. The story of this day would make its rounds from biker bar to biker bar, wherever these rode in the future. Having to pick a little broken glass out of his hair was a small price to pay for that.
He stabbed the ground with the katana, picked up the hammer, strolling over to Golden Boy, looking him in the eyes. “Even if you had my cool,” Cain explained, “which you don’t, and my lethal skill, which you don’t, even if your balls weren’t the size of raisins, which they are, not on your best day will you ever be anything but a wanna-be punk reachin' for the stars from the bottom of a well. Go back to kindergarten and grow up, kid, but first, give me back my sketches.”
“I don’t have no stinkin’ sketches.”
“I know you took them, and since you might be real dead, real soon, I need to make sure I recover ‘em.”
“Well, I don’t have ‘em.”
“I’ll wait while you go get them.”
Cain sighed. “You just keep making this harder on yourself. Well, that fine with me.” He passed on to the ugly Yellow truck and swung the hammer into a headlight. It shattered, making a beautiful sound.
Golden Boy screeched in horror. “Damn it! Stop that!”
“My sketches.” Cain took up a position by the other headlight, hefting the hammer meaningfully.
“In the glove box,” Golden Boy yelled. "In the friggin' glovebox, Man!"
Cain checked it out. They were there. He folded them up and slipped them into a pocket. Slamming the truck door shut, he went back to the intact headlight and shattered it so that Golden boy would have a matched set. As Cain shifted, preparing to go to work on the windshield, the kid screamed in outrage. He ran for the katana, snatched it up, and came at Cain with homicidal intent that was nearly impressive.
Cain waited in front of the trunk bumper, his foot scuffing up a mound of loose dirt. As the kid came into chopping range, Cain kicked the powdery soil into the air. It hit Golden Boy's face. He plunged in blindly, sword held out before him. Cain ducked under the blade and bucked up, pitching the kid high into the air. He crashed down into his own windshield, webbing it with cracks, knocking himself out. The sword dropped from limp fingers and slid down the hood into Cain’s hand.
“Holy crap!” Thumper commented from the sidelines, turning to his buddies. “I got twenty that says the kid wakes up in hell.” No one took the bet.
Too bad, Cain thought. I have no intention of killing the little puke. That would end his suffer far too soon. He has done nothing to deserve such mercy. He picked the kid up, slinging him across a shoulder, and walked toward the big house, katana in hand.
Wild Bill looked on curiously as Cain brought Golden Boy in, taking him to the side room where the tat work was done. The big man followed and hung in the door, as the kid was laid face down on a table. Using the sword, Cain cut away his victim’s shirt, revealing pale white flesh.
“Ready to get to work?” Cain asked.
“Yeah. Kid was bragging about his pain tolerance? Use that special yellow and purple ink you got for me. That stuff hurts like hell. We’ll put him to the test.”
Wild Bill shrugged, coming in. “You got any special design in mind?”
Cain produced his most evil grin as he used strips of shirt to tie the kid in place. “Matter of fact, I do. Put a yellow stripe down his back, ending in an arrow pointing to his ass, so he can find it, and put purple writing across the shoulders.”
“And what should this writing say?”
“Make me your love monkey.”
Wild Bill laughed. “You are sick and twisted.”
“Of course. That’s half my charm.” Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go find a chop shop that wants a slightly damaged truck.”
“An ugly yellow truck?”
Cain nodded. “Yeah, someone just up and abandoned one outside. I can’t see letting it go to waste.”
“Why no.” Wild Bill's face became a display of innocence. “That would be a sin. You realize, this kid’s gonna hate you forever?”
“Sure. But I’ve done him a favor. He wanted to be my nemesis, but lacked motivation and conviction in the role. Now, he’ll push himself relentlessly to come up to my level—or die trying. If I’m lucky, one day, the kid will challenge me again and make me actually work up a sweat.”
“You want that?”
Cain grinned. “When the world stops being a challenge, you gotta make a few of your own. Kid's a work in progress. Just wait until I'm done with him...”