TEARS OF THE SCORPION
Cain answered his phone, “Yeah?”
“Are you coming out or am I coming in after you?”
He recognized Iris’ voice as he pried his eyes open to stare at his alarm clock. It was three in the morning. “You got any idea what time it is?” he asked.
“Why, yes,” she said sweetly, “it’s time to move your scrawny ass and open the front door so I can come in.”
“My ass may not be as memorable as yours, but it isn’t scrawny. You’re downstairs, at my door?”
Iris answered him by hanging up.
He sat up carefully, but there was no longer any pain from his new tattoo, the main reason he‘d been holed up since getting back. He’d been nursing himself, keeping the tat clean, watching out for signs of infection. Sheba was glad to see more of him. She rubbed against his ankle and he reached down to pet her, knowing that if he didn’t, she was liable to take a chunk out of his foot, lovable little monster. She was the only creature he’d ever found as fearsome as himself.
He got up, threw on a robe, and headed for the hall. Deciding that it was feeding time, the cat bolted ahead of him, bounding toward the kitchen on stubby legs. Cain reached the front door, approaching carefully in case it should suddenly fly open. Dating a homicide cop, you couldn’t be too careful. He unlocked the door and eased it open. Iris came in at once, pivoting him into a wall. He grabbed his ribs, wincing, and noticed that whatever angry tirade she’d been about to make went on pause.
“You’re hurt,” she said.
He grinned. “Minor flesh wound.”
“Want to tell me about it?”
“Nothing to tell.” He moved toward the kitchen before the cat came looking for him. One alpha female was all he could handle at the moment.
“Let me take a look at it,” Iris insisted.
“Gotta feed Sheba. Like some coffee?”
“Is that all I’m going to get out of you?”
“For now,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise coming later.”
“Oh, trust me, I’m very surprised. Here I thought you were still in Colorado, and then I get a call from your sister, asking me if I can fix some parking tickets for her. She lets it slip that you’ve been back a whole week now! A whole week and you never even called me!”
Cain went to the cupboard for a can of cat tuna. “Stop holding back,” he advised. “Tell me how you really feel.” He dumped the can into Sheba’s dish and set it in front of her, snatching back his fingers to make sure he kept them all. Looking up into Iris eyes, he saw tears.
“I thought terrible things had happened to you-—and they better have-—or they will, if you get my drift.”
He sighed. “I got a new tattoo.”
Iris blinked. “And that kept you from calling me?”
“Look at it before you kill me,” Cain said. “That’s all I ask.”
“That seems reasonable--as a last request.”
“I wanted it healed up a little more before you saw it.”
He parted his robe, revealing a five by fifteen white gauze bandage taped to his side. Carefully, he pried the tape loose, peeling the bandage away. Iris stared at his exposed flesh. “Is that what I think it is?”
“A Grim Reaper.”
“Holding an iris.”
“Yeah, Wild Bill wanted to do a half melted Superman symbol, but I talked him out of it.”
The next thing he knew, Iris had him backed over a table, locking her mouth to his, as she tore at her clothes. Coming up for air, she told him, “I’m going to have my way with you, repeatedly, from one end of this house to the other. You got a problem with that?”
“Good boy,” she said.
He’d read all three versions of the Kama Sutra, spring-boarding into unknown territory from there. On sheer range of technique, he had few equals, but Iris brought a demanding intensity and an animal hunger that soon challenged even his legendary stamina.
He lost himself in soft warm flesh that shivered under his kisses, and was punished unmercifully in turn by her teeth and tongue. He dimly remembered falling off the table, pushing the cat away, and acquiring some painful scratches—-some of them from Iris. They left a trail of wreckage in the hall, dislodging pictures from the wall as they struck like a pinball, ecstatically knotted together with little idea of what belonged to whom.
Shedding the last of their clothing proved to be the prelude before the storm. At the foot of the stairs, he picked her up by the hips, thrusting his serpent into the garden of paradise, fusing them into a single entity. Iris gasped, as he held her with one hand, using the other to grab her hair behind her back. He pulled. Her head lift, bearing her throat. His teeth found their mark, demanding a submission willing given.
Cain carried her up the stairs as she clung to him moaning and panting. Blind to externals, he crashed into his room and dropped them both on his bed’s tangled sheets.
The phone on the nightstand chimed. His fist lashed out and smacked it across the room. Iris displayed a fondness for screaming as she he pounded into her. He hoped the neighbors wouldn’t call the cops. The one in hand was quite enough. He shifted her legs to his shoulders without breaking rhythm, hanging over her like a furious doom.
She clawed his back, and the pain fed his pleasure. Then the first of many shattering climaxes gripped his manhood, sending him over the edge himself. In the lull that followed, a more gentle side emerged. He held Iris, still sheathed within her, and kissed her face softly. “Do you love me?” she breathed the question softly as if fearing the answer.
“I slept with you, didn’t I?”
Her voice strengthened, “But do you love me?”
“I’m almost positive I do.”
A long silence set in until she broke it, “What will it take for you to be sure?”
“The rest of our lives.”
“Then I’d better hang around or you’ll never know.”
“I was just thinking the same thing,” he admitted, sliding lower to pay homage to her cupped breasts, nipping her nipples and laving them with a flicking tongue.
Iris moaned. “Oh! You are such a bad boy.”
“The worst,” he agreed cheerfully, shifting his kissed to her abs, working ever so slowly lower. “I hope you don’t think I’m done with you.”
“Hit me with your best shot,” Iris demanded. “I can take it!”
“Oh, you will,” he assured her. “Over and over again, until you beg for a merciful end. By the way, did you bring your handcuffs with you?”
The only answer he got was a sigh of contentment, and then the storm took them again.
He dreamed that white, female, amputated body parts were floating to him on an endless sea of blood. He scooped them out, creating a pile on the black sand. Something drove him to arrange them like a jigsaw puzzle; it seemed a very important. He almost finished the task, but the face was missing. He scanned the sea, looking for it and…
…awoke in a cold sweat, heart hammering away. Though unused to fear, the copper taste of it was in his mouth. “I wonder what the hell I’m trying to tell my self,” he mused.
The space next to him was empty. He heard the shower running down the hall and decided to see if Iris might need some help scrubbing her back; he was good at water sports. He rolled off the bed in all his naked glory and padded like a predator out into the hall.
The bathroom door was wide open and steam dampened the air. On the threshold, he froze in surprise, staring at the mirror above the sink. His image was broken by a message left in bright red lipstick. The words sank into his mind like stones in a pond:
Anyone can have your body,but your heart belongs to me!
Below the message, lips had kissed the mirror, leaving a signature of sorts. He pondered just what Iris meant by, “anyone having his body”. Was she actually willing to share him? That hardly seemed in character. Perhaps the sheer, rampant maleness of him had overwhelmed her, and she thought she needed help to keep him satisfied.
He grinned, turning toward the frosted door of the shower. Questions could wait, there was a naked woman nearby and he meant to take advantage yet again. He opened the door and peered in through a spray of water. Pale with blood loss, Iris sat on the tiled floor, back to a wall, head slumped. It was easy to see where much of her life had gone. The walls bore crimson splatters and smears despite the running shower, and blood still leaked from knife wounds all around her torso. Someone had wanted to make very sure that she was dead.
Cain knelt as his heart turned to lead, struggling with each beat. His hand trembled, extending to test the reality of what he saw. He hoped that he was insane. That somewhere, somehow, iris still lived. His fingers brushed her hair and a shudder passed through him. She blurred as his eyes welled with tears.
And suddenly he was standing, spinning away from the terrible chasm that had opened and swallowed his life. His fist pistoned into a wall, caving in plaster, leaving craters, as someone screamed with insane fury. The howl of rage transmuted into anguish as he covered his eyes with his hands and sank limply to the floor.
“Iris…” her name finally emerged from his lips. He huddled a long time, unable to decide on anything else to do, and in sympathy, the world slowed its spin.
A small “Meooowwwrrr?” sounded next to him. He felt a rubbing at his ankle and looked down to see Sheba. His closest hand to her fell to the floor and she limped over to lick it.
Why is she limping? He wondered. He lifted her and she growled at the handling, biting him, but not too hard, as he felt her leg. Might be broken, he decided. It wasn’t enough someone killed Iris, but they kicked my cat too. That really pisses me off. There was barely enough rationality left in him to appreciate how crazy his thought was. It scared him enough to focus on essential matters. Carefully cradling his cat against him, he forced himself to rise and return to the bedroom.
Help Sheba now, he decided, call the cops, and then find out who did this. It was a plan. It gave him structure and focus. As if moving through a dream where nothing was certain, he went downstairs and sorted through castoff clothing, looking for Iris’ phone. He found it in the kitchen, noticing that someone had broken the glass of the kitchen’s back door to let themselves into the house. He sat at the table and used one hand to search through the phones stored numbers. When he located Detective Coleman’s number, he had the phone dial it.
The phone was picked up on the third chime. “Yeah, Coleman here.”
“It’s Cain,” he said.
“What the hell do you want?”
“I need a vet who makes house calls…” He didn’t recognize his own voice and had no idea of what he was going to say next.
“What the hell do you think—-"
He spit it out, “She’s dead. She’s in the shower and she’s dead.”
There was a long pause. Then the detective’s voice came back calm and low. “Who’s dead, Cain?”
He spoke her name--at least, he thought he did.
“Cain? Are you still there? I can’t hear you.”
“Someone killed her…”
Coleman snapped at him, “Dammit, killed who?”
A shocked silence met that announcement. Then Coleman found his own voice, asking questions, letting the cop in him take over. Cain couldn’t quite make out the words though, someone was crying with a hurt animal sound barely human. It was quite annoying. He realized it was him and made himself stop.
“Sit tight. Don’t touch anything,” Coleman ordered. “Help is on the way.”
“I need a vet for Sheba,” Cain said. “Don’t forget. I did you a favor once.” Finishing his call, he slammed the phone down until it broke into pieces that scattered across the tabletop. His hand stung as he brought it to Sheba, nessled in the crook of his other arm. He gently stroked her forehead. “Don’t worry,” he murmured, “whoever did this will scream long and die slow. I promise you.”
“Is that smart?” a familiar voice asked.
He lifted his eyes and found Iris standing naked before him, wounds welling with blood but no longer leaking. Her eyes were darkened in death and her wet hair hung in tangles. Her lovely breasts were pale marble, unmoved by breathing. He knew that it couldn’t really be her, but he didn’t care.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“You know how the system works. You know what Coleman will do next.”
Cain looked blankly at her. Thinking was too hard. He needed someone to do it for him.
Iris sighed. “Get yourself together! You can’t be here when the cops arrive. You can’t let them take you into custody.”
“This is a cop killing,” Iris said. “The police response will be immediate and massive, involving homicide and internal affairs as well. Damage control from the media will be of primary concern. A lot of pressure will come down to make an arrest. That will be top priority. And you look guilty as sin.”
“But I’m innocent for once!”
She snorted. “Like that will matter. It looks like a fight happened here. You have my scratches on your back. It could look like you raped and killed me-—sociopath that you are.”
“I’m not crazy.”
“Then why are you talking to me instead of getting the hell outta here?”
“If I run, I’ll be running forever.”
“If you don’t, you’re be on Death Row for the rest of you life, waiting in vain for California to finally kill you. Prison is going to cramp your style.” Her voice got harder, each word digging in like a coffin nail. “You’re the last person to see me alive. You have means and opportunity to commit the crime, lack of motive won’t matter; investigators will expedite a resolution. Coleman will call this in as a homicide and massive force will be applied to take you into custody. The primary purpose of your interrogation will be to build a case against you--or even better, force a confession, even if it’s a false one given under duress. Even with circumstantial evidence, you will be charged with murder.”
“I have good lawyers. They won’t let that happen,” he said.
“Get your head out of your ass! Look, the DA’s office will go with this even if they have questionable evidence of a prima facie case. I’m a cop, remember? Blood fever will be raging high. If you want to clear your name, you have to bring in the killer—alive.”
He stood slowly and growled. “That’s not how I do things.”
“Just this once, it will have to be.” Her eyes acquired an incandescent light; love blazed at him from beyond the grave. “Do it for me if no one else.”
She faded out as he headed for the front door, grabbing his katana on the way.
* * *
He found an animal hospital with a twenty-four hour emergency room. Sheba behaved herself surprisingly well, letting the vet handle her without losing any fingers. “I think it’s just a sprain,” the vet said, “but I’ll have some x-rays taken to be sure.”
“Excellent.” Cain was delighted. He knew that Sheba would want to be in on the kill and not laid up with the time came for retribution. He paid the vet a significant amount to not only have the cat treated, but boarded for an indefinite period. Cain’s instructions were to give the animal to Detective Coleman when he showed up.
The vet looked at the colorful dragon tattoo on Cain’s forearm and raised an eyebrow. “Are you a policeman too?”
“No,” Cain said, “I find that the law gets in the way of real justice. They’re mutually exclusive. I’m what you might call your classic anti-hero with delusions of godhood.”
“Whatever,” the vet shrugged, pocketing Cain’s check. “Everybody needs a hobby.”
Cain left the hospital and returned to the mustang he was which was his current favorite, the black ’06 with a metallic silver scorpion hood ornament, and ice-blue flames down the sides. He jumped in and started her up. Moments later, he was tearing out of the parking lot, into the street. It wouldn’t belong before he drew the wrong kind of attention in the vehicle. He knew he needed to find something less conspicuous that wasn’t registered to him.
His brow furrowed in thought. Have to borrow a car from someone who won’t talk to the cops. Let’s see, who do I know who owes me a favor? Ah, Enrico! The club will be closed now, so he’ll probably be home. He’s been looking for a chance to pay me back since I pulled that rapist off his sister last year.
He kept to the backstreets, making his way to Rancho Cordova. His brain was shaking off the shock of Iris’ death, though his heart might never recover. Facing the problems ahead, he knew he needed help to stay hidden while locating the real killer. He couldn’t expect much from Coleman, not in a cop killing case. Most of Cain’s friends were of the normal sort, with few practical skills in intelligence gathering and mayhem. He needed to reach out to those like himself, born out of time that lived by their own rules, but not without honor.
The list wasn’t long, but he knew where to start: the Old Man. He’d have a few students that might be willing to lend a hand. Cain thought of Yin and Yang, the katana wielding twins, and Virgil Langley in particular. The ex-CIA man might be able to provide some key intelligence once turned loose on the problem Cain faced. It was a foregone conclusion that Kimmi would deal herself into the game as well. He decided to give Wild Bill a call; Thumper and some of the guys might want to come out and sample the California weather. Once I find the killer, there will be a hell of a party.
He reached Enrico’s place, pulling in behind a battered pickup with a bent rear bumper. Cain phoned the house. A child answered the phone. “Hello?”
“Put daddy on.” Cain said.
“Okay.” As the little girl’s voice rose to a shout, he pulled the phone away from his ear. “Daaaady! It’s fer you.”
He opened the car door and slid out, closing it behind him. A moment later, a deep toned voice took over. “Hello?”
“It’s Cain. I need a favor. A damn big one.”
There was a long pause. Then, “Where are you?”
“Your drive way.”
“Be right there.”
Holding his katana in one hand, Cain leaned against his mustang’s fender as the house’s front door swung open. Enrico emerged, his great shoulders crowding the door frame he passed through. His hair black was mussed and he still wore pajamas and a satin robe that hung open. In his hand, he carried a sweating bottle of Cerveza. Knowing that the man worked late into the night, there was no surprise that he was having a beer so early in the morning. Truth to tell, Cain wouldn’t have minded one himself—though he actually preferred Japanese beer.
The big man stopped directly in front of Cain, looking down on him with a critical eye. “You look like crap.”
“Thanks. Feel like it too.”
“What can I do for you?”
“Someone killed my woman. Cops think it was me. They’re not going to get her killer. I have to.”
“Exactly. If you don’t want to get involved—-"
“You got involved for me and mine a number of times,” Enrico said. “Whatever I can do is small enough repayment. What do you need?”
“A legal vehicle that can’t be traced to me, something fast. I need this baby,” he patted his beloved car, “to be seen by cops in another state. And if you wanted to offer me some of what you’re drinking, I wouldn’t turn it down.”
Enrico grinned. “Consider it done.”
“Also, it would be better if no one mentioned seeing me.”
“Why, that goes without saying. Come in. Have some breakfast, and tell me about it.”
“I’m not liable to be good company right now.”
Enrico shrugged. “I’ll make allowances.”
Cain followed his friend inside, down a hallway, into a study lined with bookshelves, dominated by a massive desk with a computer on it. The one wall left bare contained photographs of a masked Mexican wrestler. He recognized the musculature, and pointed at the images with a thumb. “That’s you isn’t it?”
“In another life, yes. But that was a long time ago. Excuse me. My family is heading for to San Francisco for the day. I must see them of. After that, we will turn our attention to your situation.”
“Fine.” Cain produced his phone. “I need to make a few calls anyway.”
He walled away everything that might distract him from vengeance, bringing the full force of his mind and instincts to the tasks at hand. His pain became a small hard knot in the deep froze of his heart. He would indulge his anguish later.
Among the calls he made, he included one to a friend who owned a company that manufactured props for movies. This was Cain’s source for the custom armor worn by O Scorpion. Cain was leaving his current gear in the trunk of the mustang, so when it was found out of state, the cops would believe he wasn’t far away. Besides, Byron had promised some special additions to the suit. They could well come in handy.
Enrico returned as Cain placed a call to Hollywood.
“Ronin FX,” a voice answered. “How may I direct your call?”
“Cain recognized Cheryl’s voice. She was Byron’s old lady and usually answered the phone for him. They had a small time operation, only a dozen or so employees, but acted as if they were a hundred times bigger. Cain understood: in some parts of the world, image was everything. You could become successful by pretending you already were.
Cain accepted a cold beer from Enrico as he spoke into the phone. “Don’t ask who this is. You don’t want to know. Just put Byron on.” He knew she would recognize his Brazilian accent and do as he asked. It had been Cain’s money that had financed their operation in the early days. As it was, he owned fifteen percent of the company, putting his ill-gotten gain to work, but only Byron knew exactly who he was and what he did with the suits he requisitioned from time to time.
“Byyyyyron!” she yelled away from the phone. “It’s that guy again!”
Cain heard a fainter voice in the background yell back. “Tell him it will be a minute. I’m up to my ass in liquid latex.”
“He’ll be with you in a minute,” Cheryl said. “As soon as he can extricate himself from…”
“I heard,” Cain said. “Thanks.”
She put him on hold. He took a long pull on the beer and immediately felt better—not whole—just better. Can’t drink too much of this stuff. Don’t want to blunt my edge. Cain took advantage of the lull to speak to Enrico. “I called a girl I know, someone I’ve used before for delicate missions who isn’t known to be associated with me. She’ll be coming soon. I’m going to have her rent some property in her name, a place where I can hide out while coordinating the response I intend to make to Iris’ death.”
He amazed himself, speaking her name without his soul screaming out its anguish. Compartmentalization is a wonderful thing, he decided.
Enrico nodded thoughtfully. “Mi casa is su casa, but it would be best to keep operations in a less visible environment. Going to rent a storefront or warehouse?”
“Whatever I can get a hold of immediately.” Cain lifted a hand for silence as the phone clicked into his ear.
“Hello, Cain?” Byron asked.
“Yeah, it’s me.”
“Haven’t heard from you for a while. Staying out of trouble?”
“Not exactly, which is why I’m calling. I need the new armor—fast.”
“Well, it’s done of course, but I really ought to brief you on the special features I added. You see I know this guy who used to work for NASA and. He had some stuff that might possibly have fallen off a truck somewhere, so we—”
“Can you bring it to Sacramento?”
“Huh? Oh, sure. Maybe in a couple of days—-”
“Can you get it here tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow? Well, I have golf game scheduled with—-”
“Rent a truck. I’ll meet you in Old Sac, down by the river. Bring everything you need to make me a couple of those latex masks your famous for. I’ve got to go all Mission Impossible on evil’s ass.”
“Lord, man, what are you into?”
“If I told you, you could be charged as an accessory.”
“Forget I asked.”
“I can count on you?”
“Sure, just remember, the day they slap the cuffs on you, I get all the movie rights to your life.”
“Put it in writing. I’ll sign. This could be the blaze of glory I was always destined to go out in.”
“Holy crap! Maybe I should take out some insurance on you.”
Cain laughed. “Who’d be stupid enough to write a policy on me? All right, I’ll see you about one o’clock. Meanwhile, don’t believe anything you hear about me in the news.”
“Course not. Bye.”
Cain hung up. “If you’re dodging the law,” Enrico said, “should you really be out running around?”
“I will take precautions, but I have work that can’t wait.”
Enrico shrugged. “Anything you want out of the mustang before I have relocated?”
“No, I have my sword, sunglasses, and my long coat. What more could a hero facing impossible odds need?”
“Friends. A lot of them.”
“Got those too.” Cain lifted his bottle. “To friends.”
Enrico lifted his bottle. “I’ll drink to that.”
“You’ll drink to anything.”
“Got that right. I think I’ll tell my wife to stay out of town a few days. Sounds like you’re getting ready to wash the streets with blood.”
Cain set his bottle down, and pushed it away empty. “If I have to…”