Authors: James Hunter
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Horror, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Paranormal & Urban, #Metaphysical & Visionary, #s Adventure Fiction, #Fantasy Action and Adventure, #Dark Fantasy, #Paranormal and Urban Fantasy, #Thrillers and Suspense Supernatural Witches and Wizards, #Mystery Supernatural Witches and Wizards, #mage, #Warlock, #Men&apos
The Big Easy
The piano keys bobbed and danced under the pressure of my fingers. Music—low, slow, and soulful—drifted through the club, merging and twirling with wandering clouds of blue-gray smoke. So many places have no-smoking laws these days, it seems like there’s nowhere in the country where a guy can take a drag from a cigarette in peace. Everyone is so worried about
health, they make damn sure you stay healthy by proxy.
Not Nick’s Smoke House
though. Nick’s—like some rare, near extinct animal—is the kind of bar where you can die unmolested by laws or ordinances. You can burn yourself up with cancer, drown yourself into liver failure, or binge on a plate of ribs until a heart attack takes you cold, and no one will say boo. And you can die to music here: the beautiful, lonely, brassy beats, of the like only ever found in New Orleans.
The house band was on a break, so I sat thumping out an old Ray Charles tune in the interim while I watched the man standing off stage in a pool of inky shadow.
I’d never met the guy before, but I instinctively knew he was looking for me, or rather
—a shitty alias I’ve been trying to ditch for years. It was in the way he stood: chest forward, back straight, arms crossed, chin outthrust. He was a man used to intimidating others, used to being obeyed. In short, he was a thug. A thug sporting an expensive suit, a three-thousand dollar watch, and a pair of loafers that probably cost more than most people paid on rent. At the end of the day though, he was still just a thug—somebody else’s trained pit-bull.
I don’t know why, but thugs are always
looking for The Fixer. Either they got something that needs fixing or they’re looking to fix me. I didn’t know whether this guy wanted option A or option B, but I figured he’d get around to it in his own sweet time. So, instead of tipping my hand prematurely, I continued to pound out melodies on the black and whites. My Ray Charles faded out and I started up a gritty, ambling, version of Meade “Lux” Lewis’ famous “Honky Tonk Train Blues.”
My left hand hammered out the thudding, rhythmic, rock-steady pulse of a driving train, pushing its bulk across the rolling open space of some forgotten Midwest wilderness; the bass notes offered a mimicry of the ebb and flow of pumping gears. My right hand flitted across the keys, touching down here and there, sending up a rusty whistle blowing in the night. The dusty clatter of track switches being thrown. The braying of hounds, while bullyboys searched for stowaways. If there was ever a song to make a man dance his way onto the box car of a rolling train it was this funky ol’ honkytonk
I let the beat roll on, hoping the thug would hop and jive his way right out of Nick’s Smoke House and out of my life, no harm, no foul. Though a whole helluva lot a people think of me as The Fixer, really I’m just an old rambler trying to get by and enjoy the time I have on this spinning little mud ball. All I wanted was for this overdressed clown to walk away and leave me be.
The man in the black suit just glared at me like I’d offered him an insult, and I knew then things would not end well between us. Still, I mostly ignored him. I should’ve been worried, but I wasn’t.
I’ve been around for a good long while and I don’t scare easy.
After what felt like an age, the hulking suit stepped up to the stage and into a pool of soft amber light, illuminating his features for the first time. He was enormous, six and a half feet of pro-wrestling muscle, with a pushed-in nose, and military cropped blond hair. His face was a mosaic of scars, though the thick tissue on his knuckles put them all to shame. One meaty paw lifted back a coat lapel, revealing the glint of chromed metal: a Colt 1911.
A Colt 1911 is a
gun, not the kind of thing a person normally chooses as a concealed carry. The things are too
large to conceal easily and they can be awkward to draw on the fly, so he probably wasn’t here to assassinate me. A pro-assassin would never have used something as ostentatious and conspicuous as this McGoon’s 1911. A hitter would’ve chosen a sleek, nondescript .22. The kind of gun that’s easy to hide, would go off unnoticed, get the job done without much mess, and could be disposed of in a dumpster somewhere. This guy’s choice of weapon told me he was intimidating muscle, but likely better with his fists than with his piece.
“Yancy Lazarus?” he asked with a low voice like grating cement, “you the guy who fixes things?”
Yep, a thug.
I could’ve denied it, but the guy had found me fair and square, so it was safe to assume he already knew the answer. I nodded my head a fraction of an inch. That was all. I went right on playing as though I hadn’t noticed his veiled threat or didn’t care. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not suicidal and I’m not a pompous jackass—at least that’s not how I see myself—but I knew I could take this guy. I had an edge, although Macho Man Hulk in the other corner didn’t know it.
I can do magic and not the cheap kind of stuff you see in Vegas—with flowers, or floating cards, or disappearing stagehands. People, like me, who can touch the Vis can do real magic. Although magic isn’t the right word: magic is a Rube word, for those not in the know, which is precisely why we who practice call it the Vis in the first place.
, is an old Latin word meaning
or energy, nothing fancy about it.
There are energies out there, underlying matter, existence, and in fact, all Creation. As it happens, I can manipulate that energy. Period. End of story.
It’s a hard line to swallow, I know, but there it is. Big part of me wishes it wasn’t true. Would probably make things easier for me in the long run.
One truism I’ve discovered in my sixty-five-years of life, however, is this: you can’t always get what you want. Mick Jagger taught me that when I was still a young buck and it’s as true today as it was when he first uttered those sage words. I never wanted to get mixed up with the supernatural or end up consorting with people like McGoon, standing off stage. But, let me say it again,
you can’t always get what you want
, and furthermore, shit happens—I think we can safely give Forest Gump the credit for that one. Sometimes gun-wielding, pro-wrestling, goons are going to pop up in your life and complicate things.
The blond-headed giant flashed me the kind of grin that makes you want to cross the street. “It’s time to leave,” he said. “Time for you to get up, nice and slow, and walk out of here with me.”
“And if I decide I’d rather stay?” I asked, as though such a thing was actually an option.
He shrugged meaty shoulders as large as a half side of beef. “Bad things are going to happen.” He glanced left and right at the people filling the bar. “Doesn’t have to be that way though, Mr. Lazarus. I’m not here to hurt you, I’m just here to escort you.”
I looked around at the crowded bar, surveying the rough splattering of men and women who would be injured, maybe killed, if I let something go down in here. That wasn’t something I wanted. I’m not a perfect human—I drink, smoke, and gamble in amounts
might consider excessive. I may not be the most positive role model for your kids, but I don’t like folks getting hurt either.
Usually, if I see some supernatural shenanigans going down, I’ll put the kibosh on that shit. That’s why people call me The Fixer. Stupid nickname—all because my stupid bleeding heart doesn’t know when to say no.
“It’s time to leave,” he repeated, this time in the tone of voice that told me he was getting impatient, perhaps close to violence. But hey, let’s face it, guys like this are almost always close to violence. It’s like they carry a pocket flask of pent up anger and rage, taking little nips to keep ‘em ready and steady.
I let out a colossal sigh—definitely going to be one of
days—and got up from the piano, careful to move slowly, deliberately, with my hands highly visible. Thugs, like this guy, can be a little paranoid and trigger happy, which makes sense considering the risky line of work they’re in. Even though I can be hell on wheels when it comes to smashing, shooting, or otherwise blowing things up, I
still human. If Macho Man Hulk decided to put one in the back of my head from pointblank range I would die like anyone else.
So, I played along.
Once we got clear of bystanders I’d be at a greater advantage—able to move, find cover, toss a little lead and energy around without so many worries.
We weaved through the couples on the dance floor, dodged a few tables—obscured by drifting clouds of smoke—and then bee-lined for the back exit, which let out to the alley. I cannot tell you the number of fights that start and end in back alleys. Tip: if you find yourself in a bar and about to walk into a dark alley with a guy who would like to do you violence, don’t. Just don’t do it. Not ever. Not even if there’s a woman to impress or friends to show off for.
Let your pride take one on the chin, instead of actually taking one of the chin. Usually, your pride will heal faster than a smashed jaw. Trust me, drinking a cheeseburger through a straw is an experience to avoid if at all possible.
Nick, the bartender and proprietor, shot me a look that said,
should I call the cops or get the shotgun?
Nick and I weren’t close exactly but we were more than passing acquaintances and he was a good guy who
give me a hand if I needed it. I wasn’t about to involve him in this trouble. Even if he didn’t get hurt, he might find himself with a powerful enemy who could make things bad for him in the future.
It wouldn’t be fair to do that to anyone, especially not a good guy like Nick. So instead, I gave a slight shake of my head and stepped out into an alley with rent-a-goon trailing on my heels.
Here’s another tip: sometimes, bad choices are the only ones available.
The alley was not nearly as slummy as you might think. Usually in movies or books, alleyways are shadowy foreboding places: the den of seedy things like gangs, pimps, or mysterious and otherwise undefined beings of an even more unsavory nature. Maybe vampires, werewolves, or worse … In movies, the air is always resounding with the crack of gunshots or the ferocious hollering of domestic violence. Oh, and there’s always some heavily muscled thug with shifty eyes, leaning a little
casually against the wall, smoking a cigarette, and you just know he is up to no good.
The reality is that most alleys aren’t like that at all, this one included. Yes, this alley was dark, and the slightly sour stink of old garbage hung on the air, but it wasn’t bursting with scores of winos roasting hot dogs over an open bonfire. It was just an alley, not super disheveled or dirty, though one I wasn’t too keen to be in. That’s life though, and hopefully if this was the night my ticket got punched—well, at least my body would get pitched into a relatively clean dumpster.
You have to celebrate the small things.
The bar door clicked shut. McGoon, the thug, had exited behind me so I was unable to see him pull the Colt. That in no way impeded me from hearing the soft rasp of the gun leaving its holster or the metallic click of the safety disengaging.