The Crimson Scorpion Strikes Part 1
by Shane Migliavacca
The Crimson Scorpion Strikes! Chapter 1 Night Shift
Starlight City. My city. As the sun goes down the shadows creep in. Bringing with it a unspeakable dread. Dread of the many tendriled beast. Crime. Corruption. A spreading sickness in the city. I will be the steel scalpel forged in the fire of retribution. A scalpel that cuts the sickness out of Starlight’s belly.
Joel Smitrovich, “Smitty” to his friends, always dreamed of being a soldier. Failing that a cop. When he was ten he was chasing his brother on the rickety fire escape outside their apartment. He slipped, falling several feet. Messing up his left knee pretty bad. That nixed his dreams pretty good. He was lucky to be alive his mother told him. If he’d been higher. All he could manage to land was being a watchmen at a warehouse. Worse, it was on the night shift. In these desperate times at least it was a job.
Payday and he was losing his pay to another of Roland’s winning hands. The big man sat across the desk from him, grinned ear to ear as he laid out his cards.
“Read ‘em and weep.” Roland leaned back in his chair. Stretching his already tight uniform.
“I don’t know how you do it boss man.” Smitty shook his head.
“Another round?” He started shuffling the cards. “Chance to win it back kid?”
“Naw. I need to pay my rent.” Smitty looked up at the clock. “Besides, I should make the rounds.” He stood, smoothing out his uniform.
“I know. ‘Never take the same route.’” He slipped on his cap.
“Right.” Roland continued shuffling. “Cards will be waiting for ya.”
Smitty chuckled as he walked out.
Aside from him and Roland the only other soul on the lot was Bernie. Bernie had it worse then them. Cooped up in the guardhouse at the gate. Then again, he wasn’t getting drained of cash by Roland’s winning poker hands.
Friday night. Cash in his pocket. Everyone else was at home, enjoying their night. Not him, stuck on the graveyard shift in a dank warehouse. It was his own fault. If he’d never fallen off that fire escape. He couldn’t go back in time. No use kicking himself for it. It could be worse. There were a lot of folks out there with nothing. He passed them on the street everyday.
Smitty listened to the click of his boots on the concrete floor. Echoing down the hall as he checked every room. It was tedious, but it killed time. His knee was bothering him tonight. It ached more the usual. His mom would say it was a omen. She was from the old country. She still believed in ghosts and demons. Smitty figured it was because it was so humid tonight. The heat always made it act up.
He took his time. Taking the long way through. Maybe Roland would get bored waiting for him to get back and give up on cards. Roland wasn’t a bad guy. He’d fought in the Great War. Smitty loved his war stories. They were gripping and horrific. Not all like the glamorized stuff he’d read in some papers.
Entering the main section he saw the only thing currently here. Furs. Tons of them. Ready to be shipped off. There was little light in here. Only about half of them worked. Dotting the large area with small islands of illumination. The company wanted to save money that way. Most of the light at night came from the moonlight coming through the overhead skylight in the middle of the ceiling.
He stopped mid-step. He’d heard something. Sounded like somebody else walking around. Before he could suss it out, Bernie staggered around a rack of furs. His glasses dangled from one ear. He wasn’t alone. Behind him was a man in a dapper suit. Fedora on his head. A cloth sack covered the man’s face. A pistol in his hand was stuck firmly in Bernie’s back.
Smitty pulled out his Colt Police Positive before he’d even realized it.
“Easy mug. No need to be a hero.” The masked man said. Shoving Bernie along ahead of him. “Put the gun down.”
“Please.” Bernie sobbed. A gash on his temple. “Do what he says.” Bernie with a wife and two boys back in his crummy apartment.
Smitty felt the trigger against his finger. A glimmer of moonlight reflected of the cheap gun’s barrel. Smitty’s heart thudded heavy in his chest.
“Shoot him.” Another voice ordered.
It was Roland. Being dragged along by another couple of similarly dressed men with guns. They where to his right. They must have grabbed Roland after he’d left. He would have to worry about that card game now. Roland looked like he’d put up a hell of a fight.
Smitty felt his arms shake. The gun felt like a cinder block in his hands. If he shot and missed…Bernie’s two boys wouldn’t have a father.
Two more men entered behind the first guy holding Bernie. All of them were holding pistols. His revolver was no match for all that firepower. He laid down the pistol.
“Good boy. Now kick it over.”
He did as he was told, pushing it over towards the masked men. The whole time Roland was calling him a coward. Maybe he was. If he opened up on the men there was no doubt most of them would die.
Defenseless the three night watchmen were roughly pushed against a brick wall and told to sit. They were gonna get shot Smitty thought. Left there to be found in the morning. And for what? A bunch of furs. Furs that the men, save the one holding a gun on them were loading onto a dolly.
“We’ll be done in a second gents.” The masked robber chuckled. “Then we’ll blow.”
“That’s crap. They’re gonna blast us.” Roland growled. He turned to Smitty. “You could have got ‘em kid.” He shook his head in disgust.
“Don’t believe him.” The man with the gun said. He appeared to be the one in charge of the others. “We’re not gonna waste you guys. You hard working guys. I got no beef with you. We just want them furs. We got families to feed same as you.”
The three prisoners watched in silence as the men loaded the furs up and hauled them out like a well oiled machine. They were down to the last haul of furs when the leader tipped his hat to the three.
“Dis is it. Time to go.” He raised the pistol up.
“You said-” Smitty started.
“That was just to make you behave. Can’t have any pesky witnesses.” He cocked the pistol.
Before he could finish a hissing sound started. Their would-be executioner looked up just in time to be stuck by something. A red blur then a crack split the air.
The gunman hollered, turning from them. Holding the side of his face. A fresh rip in the sack covering his head. A large red gash on his now exposed cheek. He staggered away from them. Muttering in pain.
All this was followed by a loud pop. A smokey darkness quickly surrounded them all. Blotting out the meager of the warehouse. Smitty pressed his back to the wall. He could hear Roland and Bernie next to him. Both breathing heavy. From somewhere in the smoke the thugs called out.
“We got to make a run for it.” Bernie said. His voice choked with tears.
“Don’t be yellow.” Roland barked. “We should grab ‘em.”
Was he nuts? Smitty thought. In this darkness?
Before any of them could act a chorus of death began accompanied by twin flashes in the smoke. As the unmistakable sound of two automatic pistols created a chaotic song of doom. It was joined the robbers screaming out in panic. In their fear they opened fire. Blindly firing at the flashes in the smoke.
Bullets ricocheted around them. Smitty felt splinters of the brick wall sting his ear and cheek. Lead chewed through the brick behind them. They were going to get hit by stray gunfire. Not from the the twin pistols. Those seemed to be precise. No, the thugs panicked shots were the real danger.
Smitty reached out as bullets screamed through the air overhead, he felt Roland and Bernie on his right and left. He grabbed them pulling the two close to him and the three huddled down close to the floor as the warehouse became a battlefield. Smitty could feel the lead slice through the air over them.
After countless minutes the guns stopped firing. The only sounds now was the heavy breathing of the three scared watchmen and the moans of dying men. The smoke started to dissipate. Smitty looked up expecting to see bodies everywhere. The result of a gang battle. One the three men had the bad luck to be caught in the middle of. To his surprise there was only the bodies of the five masked robbers.
Hot brass cooled on the cold concrete floor as blood pooled under shredded human bodies. Smitty left his supper rising in his stomach. He’d listened so intently to Roland’s war stories but he’d never been able to picture the horrors he described. Now here it was in front of him, he was glad he couldn’t be a soldier.
“Are you guys okay?” Smitty said. Looking down at his comrades.
Bernie adjusted his glasses. He nodded. “I think so.”
Roland sat up. A scowl etched on his face. He didn’t respond.
Instead hysterical laughter answered Smitty’s question. One of the prone bodies on the floor rose up. Like a corpse from it’s grave. Visibly shaking with crazed sobs of laughter. It was the man who’d been ready to shot them so many long minutes ago. Was it truly a man returned from the dead? No. Smitty could see no wounds on the man except for the wound on the man’s cheek. He most have dropped to the floor as they’d. Waiting out the battle.
The man laughed. “Oh god.”
“God has nothing to do with this Little Tony Colonna.”
A spectre detached itself from the shadows behind Little Tony. A spectre in the form of a man. All black save for the crimson whip coiled in one hand. Glowing green eyes stared out from beneath a slouched black fedora. The lower half of it’s face hidden behind shadows.
Little Tony spun around, pistol in hand. Before he could bring the weapon bear on the dark phantasm. The coiled whip sang out. Striking Little Tony for the second time tonight. Sending the pistol clattering across the floor. Coming to a rest in front of the kneeling Roland.
“You have a big mouth and weakness for whisky Little Tony. Not a healthy habit for a two-bit thug like you.”
The voice was cold. Machine-like. Every word it spoke felt like pin pricks to Smitty’s ears.
It grabbed Little Tony by the lapels of his jacket. The thug shrieking as he came face to face with the mysterious being.
“I want you to spread the word to all your friends with that big mouth of yours. Tell them there’s a storm coming. One that will wash all their filth from the streets.”
It commanded. Pushing Little Tony away. The thug, crazed with fear stumbled away. Running away from them.
Roland went for the gun in front of him. Quickly taking aim at the retreating Little Tony.
“You can’t let him go!” Roland said. His finger ready to pull the trigger.
The spectral figure stepped in front of Roland.
It’s eyes glared at the large man. Forcing him to lower the pistol. It stared down at the three men before merging once more with the shadows.
For as long as he lived, Smitty thought he’d never forget those eyes. Piecing through his very being. Seeing every bit of him. Every wrong choice, every sin. He hoped he’d never see those eyes ever again.
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