The Paymaster

PROLOGUE:

I awoke to the smell of gas. Then I noticed the pain. So I opened my eyes and tried to piece together what the issue was; I may be a private detective but I needn’t be to solve this mystery. My car was wrapped around a telephone pole, through the passenger side window, peering around said pole; I could see the slums of LA spread out beneath the cliff. It had been raining, hard, earlier in the day. An unseasonable thunderstorm for summer. I brushed some glass out of my hair and quickly noticed the gash that separated my face from my hair line; I tried to bend my elbow to knock the rest of the glass out of the window on my side. Broken. I did the best I could manage with my shoulder and poked my head out of the wreck. Oil flowed across the rain slick tarmac. I tried moving my legs: they weren’t much better than my arm. With my one good limb I tried opening the door. Jammed, it wasn’t going to open any time soon. It looked like I was going to have to hope some good Samaritan came around to save my ass or I was going to go up like the 4th of July.

I wondered how I got in to this mess; I had plenty of time to reflect after all. Last week I had received a call from one of the wealthiest property magnates in the city. The elderly gent welcomed me in to his old money home and set me down in to his study and told me his story. Apparently his son had shacked up with some pretty young Asian lass, only thing was father didn’t approve. Especially because no matter what channels he went through, he couldn’t turn up anything on the girl. Now, in today’s modern times when a broad shows up without any credentials and steals a boy’s heart in a matter of weeks, well, you’ve got a good cause to be suspicious. All the more so when millions of dollars-worth of inheritance is on the line. So he hired me to dig up what I could on the woman, and wasn’t I surprised. I knew her. Well, of her. She was bad news, a total femme fatale, known as the “Tanuki”, some Japanese spook. Either she was one, or so reminiscent she earned the nickname. She was a master of disguise and an incorrigible gambler, with a fortune built on the backs of rich men’s wills. It wasn’t hard to figure out, I suppose she didn’t care who knew. By the point that I figured out her identity, lurked in the bar of one of her gambling dens and followed her in my car, I had already seen the headlines: the millionaire was dead. Which brings me here, trapped inside the wreck of said car, following a dangerous woman, for a dead client. It was a great day all up.

Though thankfully, it looked like my saviour had arrived. I was quickly proved wrong. I recognised the car before I recognised the driver. The car coasted down the slope at a predatory crawl and came to a stop a little ways off. The driver’s side door was kicked open and out came the gorgeous dame herself, one of those pretty Chinese dresses showing off every curve she had, her ass swaying as she made her way to my wreck. Her Asian features reminded me of photos of gorgeous geisha girls my marine friends had sent me a few months back, her beauty was that refined. It was marred by the grin that cracked her face when she got to a safe distance away from me.

“Oh? What’s this? Mr Private Eye’s got in a bit of trouble trying to follow little old me? That sure is a shame now isn’t it?”

“You gunna help me out of this wreck sweetheart?”

“No. No I don’t think so, this is simply too convenient. The P.I who knows my identity, the only one left alive that knows that my dear father-in-law ever suspected me, dies tragically in a car accident. It’s so neat and tidy and I didn’t have to pay a dime for it. Isn’t it nice when things just work out?” At that she swept her long black hair off her cleavage and rummaged around in there, returning with a zippo. My zippo. She clicked the lid a few times.

“Ah. My lighter, when’d you get that?”

“When you were in my bar, drinking my liquor, you even opened a tab you sneaky shit. Don’t worry though, I’ll return it to you soon enough.”

“Hey now. You’re not thinking what I think you’re thinking are you dear?” I had seen what a flamethrower could do back on the beaches of Normandy. I wasn’t interested in having a firsthand education with the subject.

“Ah, it sure is a shame, you are pretty hot, you could even say it’s a waste to kill such a smoking cutie.”

“Could you not torture me before you kill me? There’s certain decorum to follow here.”

“Hey, it’s a free service sweetheart, I don’t give out free things very often, so rejoice! As you burn,” I’ll never forget the sadistic grin that warped her pretty face, “nothing personal!”

I watched the zippo’s arc towards me.

I screamed until my vocal chords charred.

CHAPTER I: THE LONG TONGUED LIAR.

Blackness. That’s about all I registered. Now I guess I was to answer for all my sins, as such as they were. Now I’m not going to say I’m a saint or anything, that’d be simply too much to swallow. But… I can’t say I was a devil either. I wonder if it was a sin to kill those men, sure they were Nazis, but their faces still follow me. If it was a sin, I guess I’d be seeing plenty of my friends soon. After all, I was a pretty lapsed Catholic, not that I can change that now.

“Johnny Cohen.”

The voice came out of the darkness, not from any particular directions, but /from/ the darkness. I couldn’t describe that voice and do it justice. It was a choir of angels marshalled into one will and one voice, so sweetly feminine that any girl I hear from here on out will sound like a 40 year old Brooklynite to me.

“You’ve been chosen Johnny Cohen, to be the Lord All Mighty’s tool for justice. If the wages of sin is death, you’re the man who goes around and make sure everyone’s pay cheques are in order, the paymaster.”

At that the voice solidified and grew a body. How to describe it? It was like the epitome of Hollywood starlets had stepped out of the silver screen and graced me with their presence. She appeared before me briefly naked before armour of the purest white formed about her, a helmet rested upon her gorgeous golden brow. With a flourish and a crack of wind she extended her pure white wings out to their full extent. Before me stood a harbinger of God’s vengeance, an angel of unsurpassed beauty. She was one hell of a dame. She took a step towards me, her legs that went straight up to heaven shifted the silvery gauze of her under-dress.

“You, Johnny Cohen, whose ancestors were once of the chosen people, now of the faith, you will do Gott’s will!”

With that she materialised a beautiful sword, it shone like it was made out of the golden sunlight of a summer afternoon and plunged it into my chest.

I woke up with a start and fell back to my shitty mattress. I stared at the ceiling I was so familiar with, the water stains almost welcoming. I took stock of what had recently happened to me. I know I died in that bonfire. I can still remember the flames licking at me. I can still totally recall that… dream? I rubbed my eyes with my right hand and screamed. It was blood red. I checked for cuts, gashes, what have you. I found none. My right hand was just blood red from fingertip to elbow, like I had shoved my hand into an abattoir’s cast offs. I checked the rest of my body. Same old skin, same old souvenirs of the war. I was sprawled naked in my tiny flat, with its peeling wallpaper, the office next door, its easy escape routes and exposed routes of invasion. It pays to be careful. I certainly learnt that… yesterday?

It was time to get up and figure out what the hell was going on.

Getting dressed would be advisable; you’re awfully nude right now. You should try and avoid sin Johnny Cohen.

The gleeful voice echoed in my head, I immediately recognised it, that angel from last night.

Angel? Hmm, no, not exactly Johnny Cohen. It’d be closer to say I’m a Valkyrie, but unfortunately they’re rather heathen.

She can hear my thoughts, that’s wonderful.

Isn’t it just? You could say I’ve taken up residence in your soul. It’s much too difficult for me to manifest at all times, and this way, it’s so much easier to do Gott’s will! Now get dressed, we have work to do!

I did as I was commanded; there wasn’t much point in protesting. I was getting cold too. I looked through my wardrobe. Utterly empty. I scanned the room, and noticed a black bundle on the foot of my bed, it’s lucky I didn’t kick it off last night. I unfolded the lot and found a black over coat, a black suit, a light grey shirt, and a dark grey tie. It was a bit much. Apart from that I found my charred wallet and my once tan shoulder holster had been smoked black. I quickly checked it for the one worthwhile souvenir of the war I brought home: my beloved Walther P-38. It was surprisingly in perfect order. I quickly dressed, grabbed a flask and had a good hard slug to help me through this insane morning, and collected the black hat from the stand.

“Now what?”

There’s a certain lady we need to have a chat to; you’re going to have to make your way to the address you’ll find in the notebook in your coat pocket.

I quickly checked my pockets and found the notebook. The address was miles away in the well to do suburbs. What am I going to do, walk? My car was the vehicle for my Viking funeral.

A giggle echoed through my head, That was amusing Johnny Cohen. Ask and ye shall receive. There should be a car waiting for you in your usual parking spot.

And there was. A shiny, brand new, black, Ford coupe. Not exactly an incognito ride, but it sure as hell beats walking. The keys were in the glove box, not exactly secure, but I got the feeling it didn’t need to be.

“So. What’s your name?”

My name? Hmm… You can call me Hildegard, Johnny Cohen.

“Hildy, gotchya. More importantly, why me?”

H-Hildy?! Johnny Cohen, you’re much too informal. Why you what, Johnny Cohen?

“Why choose me? Some two bit PI with a gun and barely contained drinking problem?”

Gott works in mysterious ways Johnny Cohen, you could say you were just in the right place at the right time and coincidentally fit all the right criteria.

I wondered about that, right place and right time to burn to death, then coincidentally get suckered in to this? That Tanuki girl was right, it was much too neat.

Do not doubt the Good Lord’s work Johnny Cohen, you’ll not find any happiness in that path. 

That was the first time I ever heard a tone of reproach from the Valkyrie who usually seemed almost too upbeat, like she was operating on some higher plane above the pain and suffering of the human condition. For all I know she was. I kept my thoughts to myself and she kept hers to herself for the duration of the drive to the indicated address. I had no idea what to expect there, Hildy said nothing more than to chat to the occupants.

I passed up the paved path, ignored the disgusting garden gnome smiling at me in plaster rigor-mortis and tried to keep off of the perfectly manicured lawn. The quaint, new house sat there, innocent, quiet, unassuming.

I knocked on the door.

A female voice echoed from inside, telling me she won’t be but a second. She was a few minutes late when she finally opened the door, just as I had raised my fist to knock again. Before me stood a pretty woman in her late 40s, she hardly looked it though; barely a wrinkle could be seen to mar her features. She smiled at me with almost saccharine warmth, her piercing red eyes took my measure quickly though.

“Can I help you sir?”

“Uh, yes, my name’s Johnny Cohen, I’m a Private Investigator, I’m looking into a spate of rapes in the area, Miss…?”

“Mrs, Mrs Lee. I haven’t heard anything of that sort though!”

“It’s strictly hush hush at the moment ma’am, I’m here to see what I can turn up before it becomes an official police matter, you know how it is.”

“Ah, yes, of course. You need to talk to me?”

“That I do ma’am, nothing too important, just if you’ve seen anything weird in the area recently.”

“Well, uh, come on in then and take a seat in the lounge room. Would you like a cup of coffee?”

“Yes, thank you.”

It was only then, when she turned around that I noticed. Big fluffy ears, ending in a sharp point, a big fluffy tail. I was dealing with a fox woman. This could be interesting. They were always a pain in the ass to deal with. Regardless I took the offered seat and scanned the room I found myself in. On the mantle-piece sat a single photo of the foxwoman at the beach, wearing a rather risqué one piece. Other than that questionable pieces of objet d’art cluttered the free space. Mrs Lee returned with my coffee.

“So where abouts is Mr Lee?”

“Uh, h-he’d be at work right now.”

“Mmm? What line of work’s he in?”

“Meat processing, packing and distribution.”

“Oh is that a fact?” Sure, I was getting a weird feeling about this woman, but I had my doubts that she apparently needed god’s justice.

Don’t doubt the Lord just yet. Ask to go to the bathroom.

Worth a try. I was thinking of having a look around anyways.

“I apologise Mrs Lee, but may I use your toilet?”

She jumped a foot out of her chair, opposite me, and stood rigid, hair fluff on end, “NO! I-I mean, no, sorry, you can’t. It’s broken. I was just waiting on the handyman when you knocked on my door!”

Looks like I hit pay dirt.

“Oh, that sure is a shame, no matter; I’ll do my best to hold it.”

What followed was a brief interrogation about my make believe serial rapist. No, she hadn’t seen anything suspicious; no, she hadn’t seen anyone suspicious; no, she hadn’t seen any new cars that were suspicious. I dropped my line of questioning and busied myself in preparations to leave. I offered to help clean the cups, in fact I insisted. She demurred, obviously under pressure.

I had a look through her kitchen, spotless. Everything in order and in its place. Except for the 5 knives in a 6 knife block. I looked at the sink and the drying rack and found it empty and sparkling. So I busied myself in washing up the cups. My host had barely touched hers, that was simply too bad, because it was about to be spilt all down my new clothes.

“Oh no! Your nice clean shirt! It’s going to stain!”

“Quick, ma’am, which way to the bathroom?”

“Just down the hall and to the righ-ah”

“Thanks Mrs Lee.”

I double timed it to the bathroom, and left the silent foxwoman looking at her feet. I opened up the door swiftly. At first I thought the blue tiling had red flowers printed on them. I quickly realised they were handprints. I entered the tiny bathroom gingerly; I saw the colour drain from my face in the mirror opposite the door. On my left I could see through a slightly ajar door the white porcelain shine of a toilet. On my right though was what I really didn’t want to have to deal with. It turns out Mr Lee had taken a sick day off work today. You would too if you were missing a few internal organs and were lying in a bathtub full of ice and bloody pink melt water.

“Jesus Christ.”

Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain Johnny Cohen. Do you understand why you’re here now? Look fast that foxwoman’s returning.

I heard it too, by the time I saw her in the mirror, coming at me from behind with a carving knife, I had already reached for my gun. Too slow though. She was surprisingly spritely for an old fox, as soon as my hand had wrapped around grip of the Walther, she had hit the arm with a back swing of her knife hand, hitting me with the handle. The gun fell out of my hand and clattered away under the sink. It was an absolute rookie fuck up. Her follow up swing left a nice new scar across my face. I fell back into the muscle memory of my army days. Her next wild, vicious, crazed swing was easily dodged, I grabbed her wrist and slammed my knee in to her stomach. Winded she dropped the knife into the tub with Mr Lee, but still managed to shove me back. The back of my knees hit the bathtub’s rim; it was all I could do not to go ass over tit. Mrs Lee had over plans for me though. Her anger was distorting her form; her once human hands were reverting to strong looking paws, furred with wicked looking claws. Those very same paws wrapped themselves around my throat as I was regaining my balance. Suddenly my airway was crushed, and even if I could take a breath in, all I’d achieve was swallowing the bloody water Mr Lee sat in. I was either going to drown or suffocate. I wasn’t having a very good record against women recently. I thrashed, sending icy water and blood splattering the foxwoman and everything about her. I kicked her shins, grabbed at her paws, groped for the knife lost amongst Mr Lee’s organs. It was quickly becoming futile.

Call for me Johnny Cohen!

Hildy! Help me! I don’t want to die twice in one week!

I heard a scream and the paws around my throat loosened and then let go entirely. I rocketed out of the bathtub, taking great gulping breaths, sliding down on to my ass. Curiously I saw the foxwoman on her ass opposite me, shifting herself backwards, into the toilet. I looked down and realised why. A sword hilt was slowly erupting out of my chest. I got up quickly.

“HILDY! What the fuck is this?!”

Don’t panic Johnny Cohen! Just pull it out with all your might!

She didn’t have to ask me twice. With a hard yank I pulled the sword out of my sternum. From behind me a set of wings swept out. A beautiful pale cream arm, clad in gauze that couldn’t decide if it was silver or gold, sensuously slid down my right arm, until it too grabbed a hold of the sword hilt.

A voice of terror and power echoed throughout the kitschy bathroom.

GOTT HAS JUDGED YOU AND FOUND YOU WANTING!

Mrs Lee slid back, passed the door separating bathroom from toilet and screamed. I was aware of a golden white blur, a blast of wind and a feeling of utter destruction. The scream cut off and was followed by a splash. The foxwoman’s headless body slumped to the tiling.

“Johnny Cohen! You did well today. Next time though, you should call for me a little earlier!”

“I didn’t know I was supposed to! You didn’t tell me anything! Now what am I supposed to do with 2 dead bodies? “

“The Kumiho can rot, but it’s a shame about Mr Lee. Oh well. Gott’s will be done.”

“…You’re pretty brutal.”

“Am I? Well, you’re welcome to sort out any other option you like.”

With that the radiantly smiling Valkyrie readied her sword and pointed it at my chest.

“Uh… Hildy? What are you doing?”

“Sheathing my sword, Johnny Cohen.”

“AAH! WAI-“

I winced as the sword speared through my sternum, destroyed a few organs, nicked some arteries and severed my spinal cord. At least, that’s what I expected to happen. Instead the angelic woman simply grinned at me as she passed the sword deeper in to my chest. She stepped closer to me as the hilt met my sternum; she actually slid her hand in to my chest. I felt her arm close in around my side, her chin rest on my shoulder as she withdrew her hand and rubbed my chest.

You did well.

With that she was gone from the physical world again. I called the police and left the phone off the hook, they’ll send someone around. Now it was time to get out of dodge. I needed a shower so I could wash off Mr Lee.

CHAPTER II: THE MIDNIGHT RIDER.

I was quickly informed of my next job. I was to investigate a spate of suicides and cases of madness in the area. It wasn’t hard to find the first lead. I visited an old army friend, once an officer in the medical corps, and pumped her for information. A rumour of a strange new drug had reached her ears, and it had left some men shells of their former selves. Turned out one of those men was in her facility. She let me sneak in and have a brief chat.

It was mostly pointless. He was truly mad, rambling on and on about his nightmares. He’d been awake for 144 hours straight so far.

The succubus rested against the wall outside the patient’s room, playing with the tip of her tail.

“So Doc, what do you make of it?”

“I have no idea. This psychosis is way too pronounced, what’s more, if the rumours are true then these guys are having the exact same… nightmares, days apart, miles away from each other, and after having absolutely no link to one another. Some of them have no records of ever having tried drugs before. It’s an absolute mystery. Please, see what you can figure out, the cops won’t do a thing, not yet anyways.”

I left the hospital a little better informed than when I entered, so it wasn’t a wasted trip. Doc saw my blood red hand, she didn’t seem willing to comment though. That didn’t extend to Hildy though.

Why are you consorting with those blue whores? They’re horrific creatures, designed to break men and defile their spirits, then finally, murder them in their beds. They’re sluts.

“She patched me up back in Italy. I’m not going to hear a bad word about her.”

We left it there. Hildy must’ve realised how serious I was. She had an idea though. As did I. All these men had tried a drug, and then found themselves racked with nightmares so terrifying they couldn’t even describe them. Some died from heart failure, others through self-harm. It seemed like the easiest way to figure out what was going on was getting to the source of the drug and ask a few questions.

Luckily I have some contacts in that world. I searched out my mark through opium dens and high society bars alike until I came upon her. It was never a fun experience dealing with her, but it was usually worth the effort. I followed her out the back door of yet another opium den as she tried to sneak out. I kicked out a few of her legs as she entirely passed in to the alley. She screamed and scuttled around to face me. I could never get over all those legs and the segmented body. It’s like someone decided to make a lamia infinitely more distressing.

“Hey there Alice.”

“O-Oh, it’s just you Johnny, Christ!” Her shrill New Jersey accent already started to piss me off, “don’t scare me like that.”

“I’ll scare you as much as I like Alice. I’m looking for some information on a new drug going ‘round.”

She scuttled around shiftily, “I don’t know nothin’ bout anythin’.”

“You always say that Alice. Remember what happened last time?”

This time she physically blanched, unconsciously she rubbed her one and a half antennae together, “H-hey, there’s no need to get violent Mr Cohen, I mean, gee, I like ya! I really do Mr Cohen, and I’d love to help ya as much as I could! B-but I just don’t know nothin’!”

“Alice, you’re a nice broad! I’d sure hate to cause any /more/ damage to you,” I illustrated my point by shifting my jacket out of the way and flashing the P-38 at the centipede girl, “buuuut… we both know you’re full of shit. You know something. Choose what you spill: information or your guts.”

Turns out this drug is all the work of one guy in his basement. Some ex-army chemist now de-mobbed teacher gone over to the dark side. I sat in the coupe, watching Alice be incredibly suspicious whilst waiting for this chemist to turn up and finish their buy. Apparently he was stupid enough to do the drops in person. Alice was definitely the least intelligent person around though, if she kept up her act as it is she’s going to be collected by the LAPD and have the shit kicked out of her.

Aren’t you stupid for entrusting this to her?

The angelic voice invaded my skull once again. She wasn’t wrong though. It was a pretty slapdash plan, but if it works out we’ll be able to finish up this job ridiculously quickly. It’s amazing that the guy hadn’t been arrested already.

“Do you have a better plan Hildy?”

No, I suppose we’ll have to rely on the grace of Gott.

“I suppose we will. You’ve been pretty quiet. I expected you to have something to say when I was threatening to murder Alice.”

What do I care if you murder a drug dealer? That’s hardly a sin Johnny Cohen.

Still brutal. I was almost caught unawares when the centipede girl leaned in to an ancient old station wagon and a quick but incredibly obvious exchange took place. Alice is a terrible drug dealer. The chemist slowly got back up to speed and drove off, I took the chance to pull up next to the girl who shied away from the curb.

“Alice! Get back here goddamn it! Quickly!”

“C’mon Johnny! What do you want now? A fuckin’ blowjob to go with your service… though I wouldn’t necessarily compla-“

“Shut up Alice. Give me the drugs.”

She handed them over with a pout.

“C’moooon Johnny! You’re killing me here! First you threaten to kill me, then you force me to do this stupid charade, now I can’t even profit from it!”

She lit up when I tossed her a thick roll of 10s. Stick and carrot works well for informants. I put my foot down and quickly caught up to the chemist’s jalopy, it began a simple exercise in patience and attention span. Eventually the man pulled into the drive way of a rather run down house in the slums.

“So, Hildy? What’s the plan here? Should I pull the sword out now and let you have at him?”

No, no, you’re going to have to go in and find out what you can from him. It’s up to you what you do with him afterwards. If you want me to kill him, call for me, and I’ll give him the Lord’s mercy.

On my own again.

You’re never alone Johnny Cohen.

“Because I’ve got Jesus in my heart?”

Hmm… That and I’m with you aren’t I?

I couldn’t argue with that.

It felt like a screwy kind of déjà vu walking up the chemist’s path to his front door. It reminded me of the events of a few days prior. That… kumiho’s head falling into that toilet bowl, Mr Lee’s body smelling like an abattoir. I shook my head and got ready to confront the chemist. I tried a forceful knock at the door.

“I KNOW YO-you’re in there…”

The door had creaked open at the first hint of my fist slamming on the old wood. I quickly pulled out my Walther and let myself into the house. It was a disaster area. Crap was everywhere. It was as if the man had forgotten how to clean up after himself. He’d obviously lost touch with the world around him. What had happened to him to cause this? I passed by a towering stack of pizza boxes, checking my blind spots I knocked over a valise. It spilled open, cash flowed out in well-ordered stacks of 10s and 20s, 50 notes deep. I can’t figure out what this guy’s deal is. The stairway down to the basement looks like a portal to hell; the smells wafting up do nothing to allay that impression. I almost hesitated to head down in to it.

But head down it I did. I carefully snuck down the stairs and found myself in the chemist’s lab, beakers full of strange ingredients lay around, fancy glassware funnelled fluids around the room, Bunsen burners were cranked up to their highest setting. It was like the man was trying to make the most stereotypical mad scientist’s lair as he could manage. The man himself was hunched over in a corner, busy at shovelling powder in to bags, exactly the same as the ones I had received from Alice earlier. I placed the man in my sights.

“Hey! Asshole! The game’s over. Show me your hands and turn around.”

I was promptly ignored; the chemist just kept shovelling powder in to new bags.

“I said hands up and turn around!”

I fired a warning shot above his head. The ejected brass clinked against some glassware before landing in a beaker with a plop and began slowly melting. He paused for a brief second, and then he started shovelling powder in to baggies at a double pace. My patience was utterly tried by that point. If I didn’t need some answers out of him I would have shot him in the back by now. I did the next best thing. I took a shot in to the container the powder resided in. A great choking cloud of the drug surrounded the chemist, who screamed and tried to swat the drug away and clamber for fresh air. He toppled off his chair then gagged and writhed on the floor. That may’ve been a bit too much. I rushed over to him.

You are meant to try and get some answers out of him you know?

“Shut up Hildy! I know alright!”

I waited for the dust to settle before grabbing him by his lapels and giving him a decent shake. He groaned and eventually came to.

“Hey, what’s your name?”

His silence prompted me to shake him some more, “Your name damn it!”

“I-I don’t recall… who’re you? L-let go of me! I need to get back to work… I need to keep working.”

“You’re not doing any more work! What don’t you get asshole? Your game’s up, you’re caught, you’re not making any more of this shit.”

His face was the picture of innocent confusion, “What do you mean? I have to keep working… The woman in my dream told me to keep making it; she told me she’ll keep me safe if I keep making thi…” His face slackened, the drug was getting to him. Was he ODing?

So I shook him some more, “Hey! Who’s this woman?”

He briefly came round again.

“She came to me in a dream and told me the recipe to this wonderful sleep tonic… I’m helping people who can’t… sleep…”

I couldn’t wake him after that. No one could. He was in an apparently permanent coma, and he stayed like that even as the police dismantled his lab. If he ever did wake from his eternal dreaming he’d be facing years in federal penitentiary regardless. So maybe he lucked out. I don’t know what kinds of dreams he had. The entire episode left me feeling unfulfilled though, I couldn’t understand why, the doubts just wouldn’t disappear. Especially when I talked to Doc again, ignoring Hildy’s complaints, I found out that Doc had collated all the reports and found one thing that was present in every report. A woman of unnatural beauty, and cruelty, who appeared in all the patient’s dreams.

It wasn’t long before the drug reappeared on the streets, and the victims soon began to flow in in its wake. It was obviously time for plan B. It wasn’t a plan I was keen on.

You don’t have to be keen on the plan Johnny Cohen, you just need to put your trust in Gott!

“I’m glad you’re so upbeat about this Hildy, but you’re not the one in immediate danger here. What am I going to do if you can’t manifest in my dreams?”

I wouldn’t worry too much about that Johnny Cohen.

“Are you that confident?”

No, but you can’t change what you can’t change, so just take it all with grace.

“Thank you so much Hildy.”

The plan was as beautifully simple as the one before, but this time it was hopefully aimed at the actual ringleader. I was going to take the drug, the same one that I took from Alice, and then confront the woman of my dreams, as it were. I settled in to my shitty flat, locked the door between my room and my office and looked around nervously. I hadn’t ever done anything like this. Liquor had always been a good mistress, and I don’t like to cheat on swell dames like that. I didn’t have any other ideas though; there wasn’t much point in busting the makers if another one is going to pop up a few days later.

I poured some of the bright purple powder in to a glass of water, stirred it, and downed it in one go. It tasted disturbingly like grapes. I was out like a light. I barely remember my head hitting my pillow, and suddenly the water stains in the ceiling were writhing around and turning shades of electric purples, blues and broken up by deepest black. A fog settled in and I lost all bearings of my room in the garishly coloured mist. Even my bed had changed, gone was the fold-down-from-the-wall piece of shit and its found mattress; replaced by a sumptuous 4 poster designed by someone with poor taste in rococo, post imperial-French furniture and neon lighting. It took me this long to realise that I was dreaming.

“Why, this is a surprise Mr Cohen. I never expected to see you here. Were you curious and wanted a taste? Or were you poisoned? Well, the reason doesn’t really matter, you’re here now, and that’s all that matters.”

Out from the mist strolled the woman who the sultry voice belonged to. She really was a knock out dame. Clothed in black, a slash down the front exposed most of her cleavage, slashes down the side revealed a buffet of leg to the eye. The woman had apparently never come across the concept of underwear. She looked like the kind of well stacked woman who should recline on a chaise lounge and read to you horror stories and masturbate to Poe.

“You’ve got me at a disadvantage, Miss…?”

“M. Knight.”

“What’s the M for?”

“Mind your own business. Shouldn’t you be more concerned for yourself?”

“Should I be concerned Miss Knight?”

“Well seeing as how you fucked up my last little toy and had to go and make me find a new one to make my little concoction, I think you should be very concerned.”

“If I didn’t do it, he would’ve been collected by the police soon enough.”

“Hmm, that may well be true. Regardless I’m going to have some fun with you, because I do love a little bit of horrific rape as revenge!”

“Oh hey, wait up, wait up, just one more thing before we head to the rape Miss Knight!”

“What’s that Mr Cohen?”

“I’m sure you’re a swell dame, Miss Knight, why’re you working through such unreliable men like you have? Is your distribution really safe?”

At this the woman threw her head back and laughed, it chilled me to the core, “Oh? Are you trying to save yourself now? It’s a bit late! Maybe if you had come along a week ago I’d have taken you up on your offer. Too bad for you though my supply lines are more secure than a nun’s asshole; well they will be. My tonic is going to be marketed state-wide, then maybe even nationally! Imagine if it went global!” She swooned and fell beside me on the bed.

“Do you think your product’s going to go far if anyone who drinks it goes insane?”

“Water it down enough and it takes a while to properly set in… You don’t think you’re getting all this information for free do you?” The woman licked her lips, flipped herself on all fours and started to pad towards me, “I’m going to demand a price of a hundred orgasms a question!”

She lunged a second too late; I was already flipping back off the bed.

“HILDEGARD, FOR FUCK’S SAKE SAVE ME!”

The sword hilt immediately erupted from my chest; I yanked it as quickly as I could. Hildy’s arm flicked out from behind me, I saw her twist, grab the sword hilt, pull it free of my chest and finish the spin by slashing Knight down her chest. Her dress split in half and as it fell apart Knight began to scream, it was a scream that’d echo in my head, and with every echo seem to get louder until I almost couldn’t take it. Knight’s naked body writhed on the sheets until the entire dream fell apart and I awoke with a start. Screaming filled my flat, but this time it wasn’t the banshee wail of Knight, but rather the crying of at most a teenaged girl. I saw Hildy standing at the foot of my bed; I scooted forward and found the source of the cries. A young looking centaur of some description lay at the foot of my bed; blood flowed freely from the gash down her front.

“Is this who’s been causing all this?”

“Yes Johnny Cohen. Apparently she was the guilty party in all this. Not even the form she used in the dreams of men was true to her,” Hildy turned back to the girl as she wept on my wooden flooring, “Gott has judged you young lady, and has found you wanting.”

The blade rose and fell.

Hildy cleaned her blade with a rag and faced me once again, “Ah, well done again Johnny Cohen! I do so love to dispense the justice of the Lord! Don’t you?!”

“To be honest, I’d rather not have to deal with it.”

“Now, now, don’t say that. Here let me sheathe my sword.”

I winced as it slid into my chest once again. I feel that it wasn’t going to be something I’d be able to get used to.

“She seemed fairly young, you didn’t hesitate for a second though, did you?”

“Her type always seems young, that’s why they hide in the dreams of men, and shape them to their will. Regardless, youth doesn’t protect you from the wrath of the Lord, and I’m that wrath personified.”

The golden beauty swelled with pride at that statement, it was if a ray of light somehow passed through my ceiling to spotlight her. Her wings shone a beautiful gold, the white barely discernible. Her armour was spotless, not a single drop of blood or drip of sweat marred her appearance; truly she was dangerously beautiful.

“D-Don’t you need to… disappear into my soul again Hildy?”

“Hmm? What are you saying Johnny Cohen?”

“You’ve just never stood around for this long. Is something the matter?”

The angelic being looked around my flat for a time, never looking at me, before she spoke up again, “Does anything need to be the matter? Are you rejecting my physical presence? Is there some issue in the way I look? If that’s the case…”

A perfect hand reached behind her and collected her long golden hair and held it out of the way, whilst is twin met it and pulled a cord. Her armour fell off and dematerialised before it could hit the floor. The Valkyrie stood before me in something that could be likened to a see through, silken wedding dress, the gauze fabric I was so familiar with was restricted to the areas usually seen.

“H-Hildy! What are you doi-“

I couldn’t finish that question for the girl launching herself at me with all the power inherent in her wings and pressing her lips to mine in a chaste kiss.

Do you dislike this Johnny Cohen?

I couldn’t reply for the girl blocking my airways.

Do you not enjoy kissing me?

I couldn’t really focus on kissing the Valkyrie, not when the corpse of a girl was slowly stiffening on my bedroom floor.

That is true… Well Johnny, I guess I’ll have to return to my usual abode…

She broke off the kiss finally.

“I’m sure I’ll be free to spend time in the physical realm again soon, till then, keep doing the Lord’s work…”

She disappeared with that. That just left me with figuring out what to do with the corpse of a centaur.

CHAPTER III: A RAMBLER AND A GAMBLER.

This time the target is one you already know Johnny Cohen, and there are few people more deserving of the Lord’s justice.

“Who’s this then Hildy?”

You know her as “The Tanuki”.

“The Ta-… The bitch who murdered me…”

The very same. Now we need some plan before we attack her, or we’ll never get close

“No shit Hildy, I’d be cut down as soon as I showed my face there; of course we need a plan.”

Oh, Johnny Cohen, I was simply expecting you to be unable to think straight due to the nature of your history with the target, I’m very impressed with you!

“Gee thanks, how low are your expectations of me usually?”

I’m always pleasantly surprised when you don’t die.

I left it that and started to think of a plan that could get past the evil bitch’s famously tight security. Sure, anyone could get in to the casino, but after that nothing was certain. It was at that point that Hildy asked for some more background on the woman. Not much was known. She came over after the Great War, settled in LA, and then began acquiring wealthy husbands and visiting the Triad casinos. Eventually she carved out her own little empire amongst the Japanese diaspora and built a nice security service of imported Yakuza. Then the Second World War rolled around and things looked a little grim, for about a week. Even as her countrymen were sent to concentration camps she remained free and even profited from the situation. She smuggled in contraband and dealt in information, a triple agent plus. That brought us to the present day, where her power base is practically unshakeable in Little Tokyo. Hildy listened quietly and without comment, when I finished up she said she had formed a plan; but she wasn’t sure if I’d be keen on it.

I wasn’t keen on it at all. Basically her idea was for us to temporarily swap positions, I’d take up residence in her soul, and she’d have the strength to manifest for a while. She’d use her angelic charms to get in to the Tanuki’s office as a high roller or a business partner, something along those lines. There I’d pull the sword out of Hildy’s bust then hand it over to her; then we’ll have a dead raccoon. She gets out of dodge and we swap back to our prior positions. It sounded too easy to be true.

But I didn’t have a better idea, so here I am, lying down in the back of my car, fairly close to the Tanuki’s illegal casino. Apparently all I have to do is properly call forth Hildy and then she’ll sort out the particulars. I wasn’t looking forward to the experience.

“HILDY! Swap us! Before I change my mind!”

I saw Hilde appear above me, framed by the dark roof of my car. Then suddenly I was looking down at the bench seat in the back of my car; except I was nowhere to be seen.

“Looks like it was successful Johnny Cohen! Now, all I need to do is get dressed and head in right?”

That’s about the long and the short of it Hildy.

What’s this? I’m communicating like she used to. She must be hearing my voice reverberating in her head right about now.

“That I am Johnny Cohen.”

What? You can still hear my thoughts?

“Yes, of course, I’m still linked with your soul after all.”

That hardly seemed fair to me, I was looking forward to having my thoughts to myself and getting a different perspective on the Valkyrie.

“Sorry to disappoint there, Johnny Cohen.”

Oh well. Ah. A thought just occurred to me Hildy. What are you going to do if the bitch starts screaming down the house?

“The thought had occurred to me too, the plan is I’ll use a miracle so that no one can hear what happens on the other side of the door.”

A miracle? Ah. So it’s not magic per se, but an incredibly unlikely even that you force to play out?

“Ah, you are a sharp man aren’t you? No wonder you became a P.I! Now hush hush, we’re coming up to the door.”

So I watched through Hildy’s eyes as we entered the opulent casino; many of these kinds of establishments are ramshackle and underfinanced. Not much point to spend a lot of cash on décor when the cops can come and ruin the party at any moment. The fact that this casino is so established suggests that the bitch’s paid off a lot of people. Hildy strolled over to the floor manager, somehow picking him out immediately, eyes followed her progress each step of the way. They must think a movie starlet had come to play. A short whispered conversation passed between the manager and Hildy, it wasn’t much but it seemed to convince the man to try and get the bitch to see us. Was it another one of those miracles? Hildy took the seat at the bar she was offered and sat back. A martini shimmered in to existence in front of her, the bartender here was good. I opened the tab for a reason. Then Hildy did something I didn’t expect: she knocked it back like it was water. I felt the rush of liquor flow through her.

“Wow. Wooow. That was good! Too think I’ve existed so very long without such an experience! I might have another!”

You had best not, don’t get drunk on the job.

“You’re always having a slug out of that flask!”

I can handle it, damn it!

We were saved from causing a scene when one of the Tanuki’s body guards popped up out of nowhere and quickly ushered us towards a hidden elevator. Its luxurious insides suggesting it was the owner’s personal ride, inside Hildy was patted down for a weapon. It opened up to a long and empty corridor, save for 3 body guards: 2 at the elevator, 1 at the main door; the one showing us the way was most likely the 4th. He let us into the inner sanctum. The door clicked closed behind us. That was no exaggeration either, the woman may be a bitch, but she has taste. Her office was kitted out in the epitome of Japanese/art deco styling, the woman herself walking out from behind a large desk that dominated the rear of the office, it sat before large bay windows that looked out over the water.

“Hello, Miss Hildegard was it? So pleasant to make your acquaintance, I believe you already know who I am, it’s not like the current false name I use will be of much use to you, so you can just call me Tanuki.”

Call her Tanuki? She must’ve decided she liked the name finally, calling her that was a good way to get yourself shot before.

“I understand, from the brief discussion I had with my floor manager, that you have an offer I can’t refuse… Miss Hildegard. Come take a seat.”

She sat on the couch opposite us; at that she was easily within reach of a sword strike. Hildy apparently agreed.

“COME! JOHNNY COHEN, THE LORD HAS JUDGED YOU TANUKI AND FOUND YOU WANTING!”

The sword pushed its way past her significant chest, I accidentally copped a feel as I groped for the sword, and finally I felt my sight tear away from Hildy’s. The plan was that I’d throw the sword up in the air and Hildy’d grab it and slash down. Things weren’t going to go to plan. I grabbed the sword and swung hard for the girl’s head and by god it connected. I heard a scream even as Hildy grabbed me by the shoulder and slung me back, taking back control of her sword. A cloud of smoke obscured all vision, for as long as it took for Hildy’s wings to clear it. It dissipated to reveal a rather short woman in a cheongsam, fluffy light brunette hair framed her nigh Eurasian features, blood poured from the stump of half a right ear, the other fluffy ear twitched pitifully; a leaf fluttered down, cut in half. The girl swore vehemently.

“You fucking BITCH! How fucking dare you try and cut me down!”

Huh? That’s strange. Guess she didn’t even notice me swing the sword the first time, and assumed since Hildy’s holding it, Hildy hurt her. Fair enough I guess. I quietly sat down to enjoy the show. The Tanuki, literally a tanuki it’d seem, tore off a decent chunk of her dress, freeing her tail and letting her pull her pistol. One of those Japanese ones. She dodged each swing Hildy made, it was strange, Hildy’d done her work in 2 slashes max before. It couldn’t be the alcohol could it?

“I’m not drunk!”

Hildy sliced a couch in half. She was doing such a bad job of it that the tanuki was able to draw a bead and fire a few shots. She hit too. One in the chest and one in the arm. The Valkyrie took a knee, the tanuki looked gleeful until she saw the angel’s body reject the slugs and began to heal again. Hildy sent her scrambling for cover before she could aim again, the cat and mouse game started around me again, but it was obvious Hildy was somehow tiring. Was it because the strain of us both manifesting was too much for her? Another shot rang out and the Valkyrie fell to her knees.

The tanuki woman laughed cruelly, “If there’s one thing we learnt in the last war, then it’s that a gun’ll beat a sword!” With that she aimed the gun at Hildy’s head and pulled the trigger.

A gunshot rang throughout the room.

I waved my smoking Walther at the taunki as blood blossomed from the gunshot wound in her stomach.

“Was that what you were hoping was going to happen? Too bad you’re out of ammo.”

“Y-You’re alive?!” She fell to her knees, the gun falling beneath a couch.

“So it would seem.”

Hildy regained her composure and readied her sword.

“Stop. Let her bleed.”

I wandered over to the wretched creature as she moaned, my feet planted either side of her small chest, I squatted down above her, “Looks like you’ve lost this little gamble. Look at it this way! I’m giving you some extra time to live, 100% free. You’ve got to appreciate that right?”

“O-Oh I do, I do appreciate it Johnny. H-how about we cut a deal Johnny, please, c’mon?”

“A deal? What kind of deal tanuki?”

“Let me get to my safe, I-I’ll give you everything in it, and you walk away and call me an ambulance. How about that?”

“Hmm? Is that so?”

I picked her up by the throat and dragged her to the safe, she was surprisingly light. I dumped her in front of the steel behemoth and motioned for her to begin unlocking it. She started with gusto. As soon as it opened she flashed her hand inside. I was expecting something like that, so I kicked upon the door with quite a bit of force. She yelped as the door connected with her skull. Sure enough there was plenty of cash in the safe. There was a panic button and a revolver in there too.

“So, tanuki, which would you’ve gone for first? The piece or the panic button.”

“Both.”

“You always were too greedy for your own good weren’t you?”

I started grabbing cash out of her safe and dumping it in a valise that was handy.

“S-so you’re going to get me an ambulance, r-right?”

I said nothing until I had finished, then with the valise in one hand, and the tanuki’s left ankle in the other, I dragged her to her desk and propped her up.

“You think after your little stunt, that our agreement made in good faith still holds true? Now, now little girl, you know I’m not that nice a man.”

“P-please… at least… kill me quickly. Put me out of my misery. It hurts. It hurts…”

“Oh, you know what they say tanuki: nothing personal.”

She saw the look on my face, it must’ve mirrored her own on that day because she just collapsed in on herself, curling in to the foetal position and hugging her tail, crying. I did feel a pang of guilt. Then I remembered what it felt like to burn to death. My sympathy evaporated.

“Hildy! Are you okay? It’s time to get out of here, Hildy?!”

“I’m here Johnny Cohen. Please, you need to return the sword to me quickly,” the hilt was slippery with her sweat, “you don’t need to do anything special, just think of returning the blade to me when you slide the sword between my cleavage.”

“Did you have to phrase it like that?”

The sword slid home easily and I soon felt myself back within the confines of the Valkyrie’s body. She wasted no time in ensuring that the tanuki was dead, kicking her in the head just to be sure, then made her way out of the office; all smiles for the bodyguards outside. I expected that she’d go straight back to the car when she was done. Things don’t go the way I expect them to. Valise in hand she walked all the way to one of the drainage canals, there on the bridge high above the concrete course we swapped positions once again. Except I didn’t feel the Valkyrie return to my soul.

“Hildy? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong Johnny, now, give me my sword for a second.”

“Wha-?” Her sword hilt appeared in my chest unbidden.

Withdrawing it with a flourish she checked the length of the blade. Everything looked to be in order because she smiled and readied to sheath the blade once again. I readied myself for the strange feeling of the blade disappearing in to my flesh. Inch after inch slid into me. Then it began to hurt. I gasped in pain.

“H-Hildy… what have you done?”

“Sorry Johnny, this is the end of your travels! I’m going independent!”

Her sword slammed to the hilt, I could feel it grind upon my sternum, I backed away from the Valkyrie. She simply shoved me over the bridge’s railing and let me fall to the concrete below.

EPILOGUE: THE BACK BITER.

I woke up to burning halogen lights. I felt like a train had hit me in all honesty. A 24 gun salute sounded inside my head constantly. When I turned my head to the only other presence in the room, my head ache worsened. The man was about my height, but pudgier, and over that frame he had draped one of the loudest zoot suits I ever had had the misfortune to see. He noticed I had come to and quickly shrugged a lab coat over the assault on the tailor’s art. Then I realised I knew the man. If Doc was the dame I’d trust my life to, I wouldn’t let this guy carve my Christmas turkey. He was B. Waxwing, the man you saw to dig out some lead when you really didn’t want the doctor to be asking any questions. Waxwing was that kinda guy, the most training he ever received was a basic corpsman education, but he’ll be the first to tell you he never saw combat: blood disgusts him. He was also one of my informants, from time to time; I had him helping me out with the case into the tanuki, looking into medical records for me. It struck me that I had seen this suit before. Ah. It was out front of tanuki’s casino the day I died. So that how that bitch was so clued in to what I was doing. Well, hasn’t he been a naughty boy.

“What’s that look fer boy? I saved yer life! Well, strictly speakin’, the boys dumpin’ that body and who picked yer up outta the kindness of their ‘earts saved yer life… but damnit I helped!”

“I suppose that means you want to be paid?”

“Yer suppose right! Yer really a bright guy ainchya?” Bright enough to see you grin to yourself you conceited fuck. Oh well, I’ll play ball, it’s better to have a trump card against slimy bastards like this.

“How bad was I dinged up?”

“Pretty bad kid! Christ, yer were on death’s door! A ‘ole the size a’ Texas in yer chest, and a decent head wound too! Craziest thing is, yer already healed! Yer not in to some kind of deep magic shit are yer? ‘Coz if yer are, gimme a taste, I’ll make it worth yer while…”

“I don’t think you’ll want a piece of my actio-“

I stopped up short, I thought I head a door slam below. Voices were quickly raised. A Thompson fired a burst and fell silent with a single scream.

“Joooooohnny~! You are a naughty boy! You’re supposed to be dead!”

Fuck. Time to think on my feet. I slipped the brass knuckles on and sat up, the fat fuck was panicking, shoving papers in to a briefcase. I tapped his shoulder, as he spun around, I knocked him out cold. It took a bit of doing but I shoved his body on top of the bed and covered it with a sheet, even as I heard the steps in the stair way creak. Waxwing’s wife tried to challenge Hildy. 2 distinct thumps hit the ground. It was time to hide myself, I went for the only available option, the walk in closet. I found an old friend in there too. There I waited, holding my breath, as the insane Valkyrie cracked down the door.

“Tch, tch, tch, Johnny, is that any kind of hiding place? Playing dead? If that’s the best you can do, you should’ve just stayed DEAD!”

A sword went through body, bed and trolley with a single swing.

“Ah? Aaah? Who’s this? It wasn’t Johnny? I know here’s here though… Ah. Maybe he’s behind door number 1!”

Sorry Waxwing, you traitorous fuck. Even as I sent my friend off with a prayer, I could hear the Valkyrie’s high heeled boots click towards my hiding spot, I could see her shadow beneath the door. A sword slammed through the flimsy wooden door and I screamed as loudly as I could. The blade was buried in an ancient bullet proof vest, hanging beside my head. I had thought it prudent to sit down and provide a smaller target. She twisted the blade savagely and I moaned in response. The blade withdrew.

“I can’t wait to see your face! …huh?”

She had wrenched open the door. The first thing I noticed was the insane look on her face, the angelic beauty marred by a horrific grin. The first thing she noticed was that I wasn’t bleeding in the closet. The next thing she noticed was the barrel of the Thompson I had found.

I emptied the drum magazine in to her chest.

She lay there, outside the closet, in a pool of her own blood. Even as she began to heal and reject the bullets I had fired into her body, she cursed me.

“You’re a sneaky devil Cohen! An incorrigible sinner!” Even now she coughed up blood. Especially when I kicked her destroyed ribcage, “you were right you know… About Gott killing you. It was no accident you slammed in to that pole. You were needed and the good Lord called for you.”

I loaded another magazine into the submachine gun and emptied it into her chest again.

“Is that so? Then how do you explain your little betrayal back there, Brutus? Was that god’s will, or yours?”

“D-Did you enjoy being couped up inside my body? Rej-rejoice, you were a human forced in to the body of an angel, I was an angel forced in to the body of a human, as disgusting as you. We just can’t co-exist. I wasn’t willing to suffer it anymore.”

“Which lead you here… Well, what now?”

“I’ll kill you if I get the chance… I’ll kill anyone in my way if I get a chance.”

“Apparently. What went so wrong? Was it because I rejected you?”

“Even if you hadn’t, it would’ve still lead to our ruin. I can see that now. No. No, there was nothing that could’ve saved us from this. Our place is to destroy what we’re set to destroy, and when we’re done, destroy one another. I waited for another commandment after we finished that tanuki. None came. Our usefulness was over. It was time to return to his hands.”

“I’m not quite ready to die just yet.”

“Live then. Gott will find a use for you. Maybe you’ll be paired with another Valkyrie. Maybe something worse.”

“So. How do I end this Hildegard?”

“…Hildegard. It does sound nice when you use my entire name. Take my sword, dispense the Lord’s mercy. If anyone has to do it, it might as well be you.”

I took up the sword. Even now I could see her body frantically try to heal, I’m sure if I hesitated she’d turn the tide upon me.

“See you on the other side Hildegard.”

“Ha… I hope I don’t see you where I’ll be going, Johnny Cohen.”

I raised the sword.

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3 thoughts on “The Paymaster”

    1. There was a kumiho, what more do you want Rotary?
      I actually had some pretty amusing lines in here.
      “Like someone had made a Lamia infinitely more distressing” was such a perfect way to describe an oomukade. Alice just herself was a fun character to write, an uber shifty masochist.
      Though, I was thinking of writing a grue-girl story now, but I’m worried a lot of my writing’s been pretty dark.

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