Chapter 2: Worryingly Helpful Friends

I’m going to tell you a secret. I hate my name. Loathe it. My parents were well-meaning, as all parents were, when they named me. They wanted to give me a name that meant something, that felt strong. And so they chose Atina, because even they recognized that ‘Athena’ was too much. And my last name, LeRoux, was the last remaining shred of French identity left to my family. My ancestors had fled from Basque country two hundred and fifty years ago, up Louisiana along the Mississippi, through to Ottawa, and then drizzled back down into the States over time. I got a few strands of copper hair, most of them turned to white now, and a name that got me picked on mercilessly for most of my life.

Over time, I grew into it, somewhat. People don’t forget my name, at least. Most of them make jokes. The fact of the matter is that on my worst days, I hate my name. I blame it for driving me away from other people, I blame it for never being able to fade into a crowd, sometimes I even blame it for never having had a boyfriend for more than two weeks at a time. But in the end, I know that’s an excuse. My parents were just trying to give me a name that would sound good, and inspire me. If it hadn’t been that, there certainly would have been something else about me that would stand out. I was never going to be a social butterfly or a part of the crowd. And so, over time, I’d made peace with the name. Most days.

“Ah, hello, Red Goddess.” And yet, just like that, with a couple of words, the Half-Faced Man could get under my skin. My face flushed, and he grinned with those sharp teeth of his, arms crossed over his chest like a movie vampire in its coffin as he leaned against the wall. He was, by any human standards, a terrifying piece of work. His flesh was as blue as a frozen corpse, smooth and rubbery. He wore a delicate ivory mask with golden eyes painted where the eye holes should be, covering his face from his forehead to his upper lip. His bald scalp shone in the light. Every limb was a bit too long, and seemed to contain an extra joint. It gave him a flowing, octopus-like quality to his movement that people disquieting, to say the least. And besides all that, he was close to eight feet tall. And yet, I was genuinely happy to see him.

I know what I said to Alfred. Part of it was true. The Half-Faced Man was a nightmare visually, and his loyalties were uncertain at the best of times. But he was also a fellow lawyer. He was like the prosecutor for the Fall King. He kept secrets as a matter of professional pride, providing riddles to test the wit of those who had done wrong, or the champions they could afford. And he was an honest man, in that special lying-bastard way that only the Fairies could manage.

The first time I met him, I bested him in a riddle contest that he’d been half-assing, mocking me with riddles from The Hobbit. We wound up at a bar for an hour and a half, working our way through nearly three pitchers of beer and sharing jokes and stories about horrible clients and horrible cases. He’d been the first supernatural entity that I had been able to open up to about being a lawyer. Which made meeting him like this all the more difficult.

The thing about opposing counsel is that both of you know that someday, you may wind up in a conflict where there’s going to be one winner, and one loser. There’ll be a case that neither side can afford to lose. And that hurts a hell of a lot more with someone you care about. Because you have to put the client first, and when you’re forced to pull out every dirty trick, every last stop, and screw over the opposition, it can ruin a friendship. In that first trial, I’d been lucky. I’d been able to put him on the trail of a greater crime, enhancing his reputation and my own at the same time. But there was a limit to how long you could keep up that kind of thing, and every time I went into court against him, I’d risk it being the last time we’d be friends.

“Hey, Longneck. You doing something new with your lack of hair? Your skull’s looking smoother.”

Today, however, was not that day.

“Why, yes. I learned about something called a ball-polisher at the bowling-alleys. They give me the most delightful shine.” He trailed his slender fingers across his pate, giving all the affectation of a dandy preparing himself for the cotillion. “I’m quite flattered you noticed, actually.” He smiled toothily. “Any more assassination attempts from Earlen Wen of Johnson City?”

I shook my head, and shivered. The last time the Earlen had tried to kill me, a rather suspicious white substance was delivered in an unmarked package to my front door. I’d had Alfred over, and he’d confirmed it was the poison of a Salamander, dried, designed to be harmless until mixed with water or sweat. At that point, it would have turned my blood into pure phlogiston, which would have burned both me and my house down quite horribly. The time before had been a living tree attacking me on the walk home from work. And before that, it had been a pair of slavering jaws so close to this very location, after I had embarrassed her in front of the entire Fall Court.

We stood in the old Inebriates Asylum. Abandoned now, although they were renovating it for use with Binghamton University. Maybe the Fairies would choose a different route to their Fall Court when the renovations were finished. Maybe not, though. Traditions were important, and the Inebriate’s Asylum had, for decades, been a path into the land of secrets.I looked around the cold, abandoned room with its tile floor, and the old metal-framed cot in one corner. I would never come here if the Half-Faced Man wasn’t around. I stuck my hands deep in my pockets, as all the happy warmth of the mimosas fled me in the face of memories. Who was I going to piss off with this case? Who would I enrage so badly that they’d want to murder me this time?

“She will not provide a challenge you cannot overcome.” He smiled softly, and rested a cold, slithering hand on my shoulder. It really should’ve only made me feel worse, but he had the kind of calm demeanor that reminded me so much of my father on his best days. “She knows that to do more than that would draw the wrath of the King, and myself. Just keep your wits about you, and you will be fine.” He thoughtfully brushed a hand across his collar where an iron pushpin was visible, the colorful plastic handle jutting out of the fabric. The suit he wore was uniquely tailored for his physique, but otherwise was quite stylish, charcoal grey and timeless. Double-breasted, and double-jointed. He didn’t wear a tie with it, but I couldn’t imagine a fairy who would willingly put a garrote around their own neck. They were creatures of fantasies and madness, but they weren’t stupid.

“If you say so. Speaking of challenges I cannot overcome…”

“The girl.” The Fae straightened, and frowned. “I know that I tend to obscure what I actually know, most of the time. Hiding meaning behind wordplay and double entendre. I know it frustrates you, and we’ve talked many times about when it is and is not appropriate. I will strive to be straightforward with you about what I know. I sensed a great surge of power in the hotel room, and if anyone within left, there was no trail I could follow. When I entered, I found the girl, freshly turned, and the boy, freshly dead. She fled into the bathroom, sobbing, covered in blood. When she came out, I directed her towards you. I have no answers for you on who she is, or why she was there, or who was there with her. I have my suspicions, and I will try to help you with this, but I am consumed by another case. I am afraid that my aid will be limited, at best, to advice.”

I stared. This was a quantity of plain, helpful information that was completely suspicious. But the Fairies didn’t generally lie. They might inveigle and exaggerate and bluff and be cryptic as hell, but they didn’t lie. Possibly they simply didn’t find it sporting. I took a deep breath, and nodded. “Thank you. Well, then… Why the hell did you send her to me?”

He looked rather surprised. “That isn’t obvious? A young woman, in dire straits, thrust suddenly and unexpectedly into the world of the supernatural. Forced to sink or swim, in a world that defies everything she knows and believes is real. You were the one person I thought I could trust to protect her.” He smiled, that shark-tooth smile that managed to be reassuring and terrifying at the same time. “You took the job?”

“Yes. For 38 dollars.”

“Oh, come now. We both know you don’t need the money.” I shrugged. He was right, though. The supernatural world is ancient, which means it is rich, and it is arrogant, which means it is happy to give that money away. Even the minor players in Binghamton could afford to pay very well. I lived on a shoestring budget, staying in my parents’ old house and renting out a cheap single room office. That kept my costs tremendously low. Most of the money I had went into savings where I could manage it, though a fair chunk of it went towards my safety precautions. Pathological paranoia isn’t cheap. “Besides, you know that in this business, it’s favors that count. Who knows who the young lady’s maker might be?”

I frowned. “That’s just the question. Do you know whether any vampires are in town?”

He shrugged. “That is a tricky question. After all, vampires pass through all the time. I know that recently, there have been diplomatic approaches from a Mexican group. Do you know of the Camazotz?”

“The Mexican Death-Bat?” I asked. He gave me a look that suggested a quirked eyebrow, and I coughed. “It was on an episode of Man Vs. Monster, on National Geographic.” I lowered my head. “That… they did a parody commentary for.” Judgmental silence filled the air. “I did a bit of research on them afterward! It was an inhabitant of the Mayan underworld, who played a major part in the journey to hell of some of the heroes of Mayan mythology. The inhabitant of the House of Bats.”

“I always admire your talent for gathering knowledge from the most unlikely of places, Atina. The human quest for knowledge can be truly glorious. You never know where you’ll find something important, do you?” He gave me a broad, toothy smile. “The Camazotz are one of the native vampiric breeds of the New World. With the fall of the Mayan Empire, they lost their primary stronghold of political power, and have been something of an itinerant clan since then. From what I understand, there are only a handful left. And a pair of them came into town just a week or so ago.” He crossed his arms, twisting them together into a tight double helix. A sure sign that he was worried.

“Anyone else?”

“No. Granted, that is hardly the last word. I am of the Fall Court, and I only know of the Camazotz because they have made waves in the supernatural community. There is a great deal of concern about why such an ancient and powerful- and homeless- group of undead is in the city. Whether they will move on, or whether they wish to put down roots.” he grunted. “That would bring political upheaval. The King wishes to keep a close eye on it. But for all I know, ten thousand vampires have passed through this city in the last week, stopping only for a brief feeding session, and one of them decided to turn a young woman simply because it would stick in the Lady Ann Willing’s craw. I am afraid that I can be very clear with you, because I have so little information to give.”

I sighed. “Well, hey, I guess we both win. You get to be cryptic, and I get to know everything you know. I call that a win-win. So, you said this is a major rumor. Why haven’t I heard anything about it?” He coughed delicately, and tilted his head off to the side, muttering something. “What was that, Labat Blue? Didn’t quite catch that.”

“You’re not… exactly a member of the supernatural community.” He said it with the expression of a man on a pogo stick going down a hill who has just passed the ‘Danger: Mine Field Ahead!’ sign. When he saw the look I gave him, the terrifying blue-skinned man-thing gave a shrug of his shoulders. “It’s not as though I held it back from you, you know. It won’t do any good to blame me for the attitudes of others. You’re pure human, no blood relations and no contracts made with the supernatural community. You realize how nervous that makes my kind, don’t you?”

“I’m human. What do people have to be afraid of?”

“None of us hold any power over you. We could kill you, we could maim you, we could destroy you, but we can’t control you. And you are useful enough, and interesting enough, that to harm you would be very dangerous.” He tapped his fingers together. “I have certainly done my best to make it so.”

Perhaps someone with more spirit would have told him to shove his paternalistic attitude. That I didn’t need protection. Then again, someone with more spirit might have stood a chance when that slavering thing had come out of the darkness so close to where I was now standing. Someone with more spirit might get their dumb ass murdered for not accepting that they were a squishy, horribly vulnerable human. So I just sighed, and smiled. “Thanks, Corpse Light. Is there any help you can offer? Any advice?”

He tapped his chin, and eyed me. “To appear directly or offer much direct aid would result in trouble with the undead of the city. You still have the payoff from your first case against me?”

I grumbled. “Yeah. Cheating little bastard.” The leprechaun I had represented had paid me in human money. Specifically, in antique coins. I had not since gotten low enough on funds to be willing to jump through the hoops that would be involved in liquidating them.

“Now would be an ideal time to sell them. They may pay unexpected dividends.”

“Well, look at that, Pale Ale. You managed to work in some crypticism out there after all.” I slugged him gently on the shoulder. “If you have any other help you can offer, let me know.”

As I walked out of the asylum, down the hill, and towards my bicycle, I thought about what he’d said. I don’t own a car. It’s much, much more difficult to place a discreet bomb on a bicycle, and Binghamton is close enough together that most of the time, I’m fine with just the bike. The pot of antique coins still sat in my house, collecting dust- and one assumed, by whatever fel mechanics antiques ran on, value- on the breakfast table. If he was telling me to sell them, then there was a good reason. I’d have to break out the antique catalogue sites tonight when I finished gathering information.

Irish Kevins is a pub. I am approximately one third Irish, which means absolutely nothing to me save for the occasional joke I make, a handful of formerly red hairs, and a steadfast refusal to wear green on Saint Patrick’s Day. But I love pub food. Grease, and salt, and spice. Everything you need to stimulate numbed nerve endings after drinking. I wasn’t drinking tonight, partly because Fang Fen was at least semi-Taoist, and thus did not drink or otherwise intoxicate herself, and mostly because I had court tomorrow and never drank when I had work to do.

She’d swapped outfits since last night. Tonight’s outfit was a cloche hat, red with a black band, and a delicate gown that exposed a hell of a lot of shoulder. She was drawing eyes from every man in the bar, luxuriating in the combination of ‘exotic’ and ‘familiar’ that she pulled off so well. I was still dressed in my sweater and long pants from the morning, and had picked up a pair of heavy, mitty gloves which now sat in my jacket pockets. I looked out the window, into the dark parking lot. The street lights had come on, providing a view of the graveyard across from us. The same place where I would be trying this case tomorrow. Monuments stood there, some clean and fresh, some worn and ancient, providing an annoyingly on-point reminder of the ephemeral nature of all things.

“The Lady Ann Willing is out for blood, if you will pardon the expression. If Jenny’s sire is still in the city, they will likely not confess to it, for fear of what she might do.” Fang Fen had a melancholy expression on her face, slowly twirling the straw in her water around with one finger. “It is an unfortunate situation.”

I nodded. The Lady Ann Willing was widely regarded as a deeply fair-minded individual, dedicated to keeping the peace in the city. In the cases I’d taken where she played a part, she’d always been reasonable. It was only with vampires that she had these problems. “I can imagine. Are there any vampires in town? I’ve heard something about a group of Camazotz being in the city?”

She looked up sharply, an eyebrow raised. “Yes… Lady Ann Willing has tried to keep it quiet, but there are two. Hun-Came, and Chaac.”

“Any chance it was them?”

Fang Fen sighed. “Very little, for three reasons. First, they exclusively drink the blood of Spaniards. I’m not sure whether it’s a grudge or an actual need, but they have been notably picky with Lady Ann’s hospitality. Second, the Camazotz are deep traditionalists. They do not make new vampires out of anyone but pure-blooded Mayans. There’s a reason they’re so rare. If it were just a matter of biting whoever and changing them, they could’ve rebuilt their numbers tenfold by now.”

“Hrm. And third?”

“Third is…” Fang Fen tapped her fingers along the table. “You know of the nature of our power. Lady Ann Willing is the oldest undead in the city, and easily the most powerful. She was born in 1764.” Fang Fen’s mouth twisted. “Hun-Came was born before the birth of Christ.”

“You’re shitting me.”

“No. I wish that I was. She is not a goddess, but she is as close as undead get. You understand, then, that if she had sired a new Camazotz, she would not particularly need to hide it. If she wished to cause us trouble, she could simply kill us all.” I gave her an uncertain look. “Oh, I doubt that she would. We undead are not prone to violence. But even if she were attempting a subtle gambit, Jenny is nothing more than an unfortunate annoyance. Hun-Came is above such things. I should hope.”

I rubbed my forehead. “Shit. Is there any way to prove a connection between the two?”

“Possibly collecting a blood sample from the sire. There are several Postmortologists at the school who would be able to tell you, then.”

“What are the chances that I could get an ancient vampire-goddess to donate some of her blood to me so I can hand it over to some inquisitive wizards?”

“Remote. And even with all of that, I still do not believe it is them. It is far more likely to be one of the families of the Notte Nostra trying to start shit again. I heard that they had one of their wise guys in town.” Fang Fen winced, and kneaded her shoulder. “God damned arthritis. At any rate, this fits with their tactics much better. A quick smash-and-grab, leave us a sticky moral problem to drive a wedge between the local undead. I must warn you, this case is going to draw a lot of old and powerful undead out of their holes.”

I’ll diverge a moment now to explain undead court procedure. Ultimately, the Night Court bears a superficial resemblance to US court procedure. Twelve jurors, a judge, a prosecutor, and a defense attorney. This is where most of the similarities end.

Any of the undead in Binghamton can call the Night Court to settle disputes. You might think that this would lead to contracts with humans being unenforceable. You would be wrong, as the undead are one of the most prickly, litigation-happy groups I’ve ever met, and an undead will happily call the Night Court on someone else’s behalf if they learn about a broken deal. Old people get hidebound, and the undead are very old.

Typically, the Night Court assembles every half moon. Anyone who wishes to apply for the jury can do so. The twelve oldest applicants are made members of the Jury, and the thirteenth oldest applicant is made the Judge. The Judge and Jury determine who will prosecute the case, based on whatever criteria they choose. And then, things get complicated. The jury is a prized position, as they decide the actual cases and precedent that will be made, and are typically free to make that decision however they like- including bribes. They are chosen for this because, by definition, they must be among the oldest, wisest, and most powerful undead. The judge, then, is kind of the booby prize of positions. They are intended to keep things from breaking into actual violence, to punish any member of the court who tries to do violence to any other member, and cast a tie-breaking vote in the event of a deadlock. The prosecutor is usually little more than a catspaw in a criminal trial.

“What’s the jury line-up look like?” I asked, leaning back in my chair, staring out the window.

“We’re probably going to have some old undead. Their price is going to be high, their moral standards firm, and their outlooks jaded. This is going to be a difficult case, LeRoux. You may be in over your head on this one.” She frowned. “And it is an unjust case. The Lady Ann’s usually better than this. I wish I knew more about why she feels the way she does.”

“Is it that much of a mystery? I thought the established undead always hated vampires. They’re chaotic, bad for business, they go in for meritocracy and disrupt established power systems, all the things that cause chaos that you staid, calcified relics can’t stand.”

She groaned again, leaning her head from side to side. “Please, god, don’t use the word calcified. I feel as though someone has poured buckshot into my marrow. I haven’t gotten a good meal in days.” Her eyes drifted across the bar, licking her lips hungrily as she studied the young men. You might be worried, at this point, about the kind of things I let slide from the undead. But I wasn’t worried about her hungers.

Here’s the secret about the undead. This varies sometimes, but I’ve found that it’s true more often than it’s false. They have about the same attitude towards mortals as we have towards domestic animals. Now, that sounds fucking awful on the face of it, but humans have a very soft spot towards domestic animals. Who likes to see a dead cat, or a dead cow? And the thing about the undead is that none of them actually need to kill anyone to feed.

Which is not to say that undead are any morally better than us. Despite the habit some of them have of rubbing the whole ‘I don’t kill anything to survive hah hah hah’ thing in my face, all undead were originally human, and being made immortal and powerful has rarely if ever improved someone’s moral compass. But most of them have a very strong block against actually eating so much that it kills a human. That’s why Gluttony is a capital crime.

In other words, if Fang Fen took one of these boys home and supped upon his chi, I was absolutely confident that I would not be getting a phone-call at 3 AM asking to help move a body, and could remain friends with Fang Fen. It was something I took seriously. I know lawyers get a bad reputation, but I didn’t want to be friends with anyone who casually killed humans. For self-preservation reasons, if nothing else. It was hard enough to get the non-lethal creatures in this city to pay me respect. The ones that thought of humans as chattel? They wouldn’t be impressed or charmed by my skill with words or my legal acumen. They’d think of me as an uppity meal.

“Atina.” Fang Fen snapped her fingers in front of my face. “I asked if there was anything else?”

I coughed, and looked up. One of the young men from the bar had stood up, and was making his way over towards Fang Fen with a grin on his face. He looked young, college-aged. I groaned. “The cougar act is really distasteful, Fang Fen. You know that, right?”

“Yes, I will certainly be kept up at night by my shame at preying upon young men,” she said nonchalantly, shooting me a small smile. “Have a good trip home, Atina.” She turned towards the man with a bright smile. “Oh, yes, I would enjoy sitting with you and your friends. I wonder, do you happen to know anything about massage? You see, I was helping my friend here move into her apartment today, and my shoulders are just feeling so sore…”

“Oh, uh, yeah! Hey, if you want to join us-” The young man turned towards me, his smile fading a little bit.

“No, thanks.” I considered a cutting remark, some cruel jibe, but honestly, the best I could hope for was ensuring that Fang Fen didn’t eat tonight, and I wasn’t quite THAT petty. I gave a brief nod and a smile as the young man stood behind the Jiang-shi, and began to rub her shoulders. The sound of her highly vocal appreciation filled the restaurant as I walked out, pulling my jacket up to hide my embarrassment. I mean, look, the whole creatures-of-the-night sexual-predator thing is something I’ve gotten used to, but most of them weren’t quite so open about it. Guys got suspicious when a girl seemed too eager. That was my best explanation for the state of my own love life.

As I stepped out into the bitter cold night, I could feel the cold air dry out my nostrils. My stomach rumbled loudly. I tried not to think of the whole situation as a bluntly obvious metaphor. I was going to pick up some fast food, sooth my emotional issues with cheap unhealthy garbage, and then check that Jenny was ready for court tomorrow. I’d left her my number to call me if she needed anything, and my phone had been silent the entire time. I was going to take that as a good sign.

The Shark Belly on Front Street was still open. It was the graveyard shift, which meant Roy. This was good news, and bad news. I slid the door open into the painfully plastic, cheerful interior of the Shark Belly’s, the anthropomorphic shark mascot grinning from the walls, and the Li’l Pups meals being advertised in exciting colors. I never ordered the fish, even though it was Shark Belly’s specialty. My father always taught me to never get seafood when you’re more than thirty miles from the nearest coastline. And behind the register, working alone as he always did, no sign of a manager or relief worker at this late hour, was Roy.

Roy wasn’t bad looking. Normal height, messy dark hair, a little scrawny in a uniform that didn’t quite fit right. He wasn’t unattractive in any particular notable way, but he didn’t particularly stand out either. He had the scratchy remains of a beard and mustache shaved not-frequently-enough. He spoke with a peculiar sped-up southern accent as he smiled at me. “Miss LeRoux! Been a while, huh?”

“Just a week, Roy. Trying to slim down my figure, you know?” I smiled, a bit uncomfortably. it wasn’t that Roy made me nervous, or frightened. I had four inches on the poor guy, and I hadn’t feared a man trying to get rough with me since I’d turned sixteen.

“You don’t need to worry none about your figure, Miss LeRoux,” he said with a terribly bashful expression, blushing a bit. I wasn’t sure how old he was. I didn’t really know much at all about him, to be honest. I didn’t want to encourage his painfully obvious crush. He smiled, pointing awkwardly over his shoulder. “I got started on your usual order back there. If you want somethin’ else, though, that’s okay, I can change it up.”

“The usual will be fine, Roy. Here, please, keep the change.” I handed over a twenty, and he beamed. It made me feel a little bad inside.

The worst feeling in the world that I’ve ever had is knowing someone who was earnest, and kind, and transparently attracted to me, and knowing I was too good for him. He was a sweet guy, but he was working in a fast food place on the graveyard shift, and he’d always come across as a little bit slow. He had no ambition for something greater. I didn’t know if he even had any interests that we could share. He showed far too much eagerness, and we both knew it. I was a lawyer, and I regularly interacted with the supernatural. Where could our experiences merge? I couldn’t like him back the way he liked me. The most I could do was feel like an asshole for not reciprocating his feelings.

I took the Tuna of the Dirt meal, and gave him a smile. The food helped, a little. It drove away some of the gloom. The lettuce and tomato were crisp and fresh, the burger perfectly cooked. Even the fish-oil fries tasted fresh and crisp and clean. “Tell me, Roy…” I frowned as I sat at the table nearest the counter, leaning forward on my elbows, a fry in one hand. “Has anything… strange, been happening, lately?”

He frowned. “Well, miss, they’re planning on releasing a new sandwich. The new Longfish sandwich. But I ain’t never heard of a Longfish, so I can’t say I’d recommend it.”

I shook my head. “Never mind. Just a strange idea. I’ve been hearing a lot about disappearances and stuff. The streets just don’t feel as safe as they used to.” I gave him a brief smile, and then cringed inside as I saw the earnest concern on his face.

“If y’ever think you’re in trouble, miss, just come by here. You’ll be safe here. I promise. We got the ol’ company shotgun under the counter from the bad old days, and Mister Williger takes me out target-shooting with it twice a week. Promise, Miss LeRoux. You’d be safe here.”

I gave him a weak smile. “Thanks, Roy. It was great, as usual. Take care of yourself, alright?” The image of me running in with vampires on my heels to be saved by the boy with the hunting shotgun filled with birdshot was almost funny, but I didn’t want to laugh at him.

“You too, Miss LeRoux. And remember what I said, alright?” He smiled without a trace of guile. And I imagined actually running in here with something horrible after me, and the poor young man trying to protect me, and being murdered horribly for his troubles. It didn’t seem so funny anymore.

I got out of the fast food joint, and rode about two blocks before I realized my bike’s back tire was flat. I cursed, coasting to a stop, still half a mile from home. I frowned, beginning to walk through the cold October night, bulky black gloves keeping my hands from freezing. Then I crouched down, and stared at the bike’s tire. A large gash was visible in the rubber. A man stepped out of the darkness. He wore a pair of sunglasses and a rather casual looking black suit that fit his broad, brawny figure poorly. “Excuse me, miss. You got a light?” He noticeably did not have a cigarette.

I lashed out, hard. The gloves were bulky and unwieldy because the backs were padded with large segments full of iron filings. The gloves were technically legal in New York, and added approximately eight pounds of mass to the gloves, bracing the knuckles. A human being could strike a concrete block and be totally unharmed wearing these, and they hit like a blackjack. You could easily put a man into a coma with them.

My arm shook with the force of the impact, knuckles planted against the side of his head, just behind the eyes. He frowned as the lenses of the sunglasses slowly fell to the ground, cracked and broken from the impact. His irises were bright yellow. “I liked those glasses, lady.” Then he leapt at me.

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