I step out of the bathroom in a cloud of steam, and pretend I'm a god of some sort. I don't feel all that godlike, unless gods wake up with headaches and the burning in the back of their throats that's a clear indicator they did entirely too much vomiting the night before.
For all I know, there are gods who do just that. But gods are way above my pay grade, so I ignore them as much as possible.
I grab my coffee off the counter, and make my way to the window. There isn't much I'd classify as good in my life, but the sunrise view over the city from my apartment definitely fits. I take a sip of my coffee, scratch my balls, and feel a weird rumbling in my stomach.
"What do you remember from last night?"
"What is that smell?"
"Ignore that," I say. "Just answer my question."
"Ignore it? Are you serious? Greg, I got the heightened sense of a mythical creature, okay? You've probably made more than one regular person puke with the stench coming off you, and for me, it's about a hundred times worse."
Frank's my partner, and he claims to be part werewolf. I'm not really sure I believe him. Sure, he likes to urinate in public, but aside from that, I've never seen him do anything particularly canine-y. He's always claiming to have this super-smell thing, though--he'll lean over and mutter stuff like, "That guy had onions in his lunch two days ago," but it's nothing you can confirm.
It's Agency policy to keep things low-key, which means you can't be doing weird stuff like walking up to civilians and asking them if they ate onions two days ago.
"We went to the Iron Potato, had a few drinks, and then went home."
"No, you idiot. I remember playing darts; we did that, right?"
"Yeah, man. Darts. Can you step back, please? That smell is literally causing my eyes to water."
"And then what?"
"And then I'll probably start dry heaving."
"No, you idiot. Last night!"
"You hit that little guy in his butt cheek with a dart and he got real mad, and we all had to leave. We grabbed some tacos from the truck on 51st Street. Pretty much a regular Tuesday night. What's your deal?"
"The little guy! I forgot about him! He was a leprechaun!"
"Oh, come on, man. Short dudes are always claiming that."
"No! He cursed me! Curse of the Leprechaun!"
"First of all, step back--every time you get excited, you get closer, and I'm seriously about to hurl. Second of all, there's no such thing as a leprechaun curse."
"You don't know that. Some people might say there's no such thing as a guy who's a quarter werewolf, a quarter swamp creature, and half Dutch."
"Don't mock my heritage."
"What was the curse, Frank?"
"Oh, for Pete's sake. He said he'd unleash it at dawn, okay? You ass-darted him, he got all mad and jumped up on a stool, and you pushed him off. He yells out, 'At dawn, the beast shall be unleashed,' and then he kicked you in the nuts. After that, things get a little hazy, because someone hit me in the head. Next thing I know, we're sitting on the curb eating tacos, and you're hitting on a piss-covered fire hydrant. I'm pretty sure you thought it was a shape-shifter, but by that point, you'd had a lot to drink, so maybe you just thought the hydrant was sexy."
"Frank. Listen. At dawn, just as the sun came up, that's when this happened."
"That's when you started smelling like Oscar the Grouch, but if someone vomited in his trash can, and then pooped in there to cover the throw-up smell?"
"Dude, I'm tel-"
"And then his trash can sat out in the hot sun all day, and when Oscar got home, he threw up, too, and then used a dead fish as air freshener?"
"Shut up. The curse, okay? The sun came up, and I felt this horrible pain in my stomach, and then this smell just, like...erupted from me."
"No! There's more to it than that--it's hard to explain."
"No, Greg, it's super easy to explain. You drank too much, piled a bunch of tacos on the booze, and then farted. What I don't understand is why you still reek. Did you crap your pants?"
"I wasn't even wearing pants! I was still in my towel! It's the curse."
"Keep your voice down. The smell you're putting off is drawing attention enough, you don't need to add noise. So, what? What do you want from me?"
"We need to find this little bastard, get him to take it back."
"Assuming there really is a curse--which there isn't--and assuming that all your protective spells failed--which they didn't--what makes you think you're gonna find this guy and he's just going to 'take it back?'"
"Because if he doesn't, I'll kill him."
"Easy there, Dirty Harry. You can't just go around killing people."
"I work for the Agency. I don't have a very good job, and I'm not very good at the job I do have, but I still work here. And Agents of the Agency are allowed to use lethal force in certain situations, including 'attack both natural and supernatural.'"
He rolls his eyes. "Fine. Let's get going. We're taking your car, though--no way are you going to nasty up my ride with your funk."
"What's that smell?"
"Don't worry about it. Answer the question."
The bartender gags a bit, but gulps it back down. "Maybe if you could wait outside? I'm sure I could remember way better if I wasn't being subjected to the stench of gangrenous feces."
"I'm about to gangrenous feces your face, you don't answer our questions!"
Frank takes me by the arm and leads me a few steps back. "Listen, man, I admire your enthusiasm, but threats only work if they make any sort of sense. How about you go wait in the street and do your best not to make any homeless people puke? I'll see what this guy knows and I'll be out in a second."
"Don't half-ass this, man. We need answers."
"Wouldn't dream of it. Just go." He releases me, walks back to the bar, and dumps a quart of vodka over the hand he used to touch me. I make my way to the exit.
"Try not to touch the doorknob when you leave," the bartender says.
I sit down on the curb and try to ignore the olfactory pollution I'm generating. Sitting in the sun does nothing to improve matters. After a couple minutes, I can't stand the smell anymore, and make my way to the alley, hoping that the shade from the buildings will help. Just as I'm passing the back door of the bar, it bursts open, hitting me in the face and breaking my nose.
"I ain't tellin' you nothin'," the bartender shouts, waving around a piece that's the size of a baby dinosaur.
"Okay," I say, as I stumble around, holding my nose. "That's a-okay."
Apparently, he doesn't believe me, because he shoots me three times. The impact hurls me back into a pile of trash bags stacked against the building. They smell better than I do.
The bartender glances toward each end of the alley, deciding which way to go. Before he can reach a decision, a series of bullets catches him in the chest, driving him into the trash beside me.
Frank rushes over, but stops short of diving into the trash to rescue me.
"No, I'm not okay," I tell him. "I just got shot three times!"
"You know what I mean."
I sigh. "Yeah, I'll live. Help me up."
"I'd rather not."
"Fine," he says, rolling his eyes. He jams his gun back into the holster and extends a hand to pull me up. It hurts like a mad bastard, but none of the bullets hit in a vital organ. "How long is it going to take you to recover?"
"Few hours, probably." See, guys like Frank and I, we're low-end on the talent scale of the Agency. Sure, I can get shot three times and recover in just as many hours. But when you're on a force with guys who can heal from that kind of damage in a matter of minutes, you're suddenly back to B-team status.
I'm not real sure where I got my ability--my mom swears we had a demi-god in our family tree, but it could have just as easily been a witch's spell or something. Doesn't matter. What matters is that when I was a kid, I was a beacon of hope for my family.
Right up until the age of four, when my cousin Jason was born. He's one of those guys I talked about earlier. He's strong, he's clever, and he can recover from wounds almost instantaneously. It's pretty irritating.
"What happened in there?" I ask Frank.
"One second, the guy's chatting away, but as soon as he found out we worked for the Agency, he went nuts. Pulled a gun on me and dashed out the back door."
You might think that being part werewolf would give him a little more confidence when faced with a gun-wielding lunatic, but we tend to mill around the supernatural dive bars, which means most of the people who would pull a piece on you are packing silver bullets. See? This is why we're B-listers.
"I'm so confused right now," I say. "He had to know we weren't gonna bust him--if that was our plan, we would have opened with that."
"He wasn't scared of us, man--he was scared of the guy we were asking about."
"That has yet to be determined. What has been determined is the dude's name. They call him Stiff Lip Mickey."
"Why do they call him that?"
"Good point. So...I guess if people are going to shoot us when we ask about him, maybe we should come up with a different plan."
"Good thinking," Frank says. "My plan is for you to call your cousin."
"If this Mickey guy is a player, Jason will know him. Maybe he can help us track him down."
"Okay, what's your plan, then? Spend the rest of your life smelling like the inside of a stray dog's butt?"
"Jason? It's me."
"Who is this?"
"It's Greg. Your cousin."
"Oh, hey. Tell your folks I'll be there."
"At dinner on Sunday. Isn't that what you're calling about?"
"You're having dinner with my folks on Sunday?"
"Aren't you going to be there?"
"I wasn't invited."
"Ooh. Awkward. So, uh...what can I do for you?"
I resist the urge to hurl my phone into the river, and focus on trying to get my wounds to heal faster. I don't really think it works, but I always try it, just in case.
"You ever hear of a guy called Stiff Lip Mickey?"
There's a full ten seconds of silence before he answers. "What have you gotten yourself into?"
"What? Nothing? Just a perp mentioned the name earlier, like it was someone I should know."
"It's not. It's someone you shouldn't know even a little bit. He's a gangster on the rise, has a vision of himself as the Al Capone of the supernatural world. Drugs, murder, human and non-human trafficking, you name it, he's doing it. If Stiff Lip's involved, guys like you shouldn't be, do you understand? Leave this one to the big dogs, Greg. I mean it."
"Okay, fine--don't pee yourself. I'm not one to go looking for trouble, I was just curious."
"Well don't be. Stick with catching the bail-jumpers, and if you hear the name Stiff Lip Mickey again, you walk the other way."
"Okay, will do. Thanks for the info."
"No sweat. Look, I gotta go--we're tracking down a hellhound, and I just got a tip that he's shredding a bar downtown."
"Good luck with that." I hang up before he can say anything else, and turn to Frank. "So apparently, I should consider myself lucky that I made it out last night with just a curse."
He raises his eyebrows. "If you consider this getting lucky, I'd hate to see what happens to guys who aren't."
"Well, too bad, because that's exactly what we're going to do. We need to get back to the Agency and see if we can get our hands on this guy's file--if he's as bad as Jason says, there's bound to be something, and maybe we can figure out where he spends his free time."
"Look at you, acting like you know how to do your job."
"Yeah, believe it or not, I actually do know how to do my job."
"Don't tell me how to do my job."
I clench my fists in frustration, and bang my head against the wall. "I'm not trying to tell you how to do your job, Beatrice. I'm just saying that you should be able to give me the file I'm asking for, as it pertains to a case I'm currently working."
"Don't bang your head on my wall--I don't want it to smell like...whatever it is that you smell like. And I've told you--access to that file requires higher clearance than you will ever have at the Agency."
"That's unnecessarily hurtful," Frank says.
"Sorry, but it's true," she says, tapping her head. The Agency hires low-level psychics as clerks, so that they will have any resources handy before anyone asks for them. It's a clever system, but a bit demoralizing when it constantly reminds you that you don't have much of a future.
"Is there anything you can do to help us?" I ask her.
"Yes. I can tell you that should leave."
"That doesn't seem very helpful."
"Considering what's about to happen here, it's more helpful than you deserve. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to call security to recommend a lockdown."
"Let's roll," Frank says, grabbing my arm and pulling away from the desk. "No way am I getting trapped in a lockdown situation with you while you smell like this."
We make it out of the building just before the iron doors crash down over all of the exits.
"I know those things are incredibly effective against mythical threats," Frank says, looking back at the rune-covered doors, "but I feel like they could be a little more careful in the activation process, you know?"
"Can you focus on the problem at hand? We're no closer to finding this guy, and it looks like we're on our own."
"I don't know if you've noticed, but we're pretty much always on our own."
"Yeah, but usually it doesn't matter. This case is actually important to me. And you, unless you want to request a new partner."
"Would that...you'd be okay with that?"
"Well, look, Greg--I can't spend the rest of my career hanging around you, if this is how you're going to smell from here on out. I'd go crazy."
"So help me figure this out!"
"Okay, look. How about we go back to the bar? It's almost noon, so I'm sure they've replaced the bartender, and there might be some regulars we could talk to. We'll just be more careful about it this time."
It's not a very good plan, but it's better than anything I can come up with. Plus, I could use a drink.
The good news is that by the time we get back to the bar, my bullet wounds have healed. The bad news is, the bar is no longer there. In its place, there is a pile of smoking, blood-spattered concrete, littered with pieces of bar stools, pool tables, and former patrons.
"What happened here?" Frank asks, irritating the damage control guy who's busy stretching crime scene tape around the border of the carnage.
"Hellhound. Came outta nowhere, apparently; laid waste to the place, and then moved on."
"Oh, no," Frank says, turning to me. I'm already dialing. I don't like Jason very much, but he's family, and I need to make sure he's okay. I let it ring until voicemail picks up, then hang up and dial again. This time, he picks up on the third ring.
"Not a good time, Greg."
"I just wanted to make sure you're okay."
He laughs a desperate, high-pitched laugh into my ear so loud that I have to pull the phone away from my head. "Of course I'm not okay!"
"Why not? What happened? Where are you?"
"I'm at the station, fighting this dog, along with every other Agent who gives a damn about their fellow officers. Where are you?"
"I, um...I'm here, too. Oops, gotta go, I think I see it!" I hang up the phone and tuck it into my pocket, ignoring it when it immediately starts ringing.
"Thing must have hit a sewer line," the DC guy says. "You smell that? You can only get that smell when you have years and years of gut-rotted drunks taking dumps in the same toilet."
"I think that's my partner," Frank says.
"Shut up. Let's go." I grab him by the arm and lead him back to the car.
"I never noticed how often you grab me by the arm until today. I think I'm going to have to throw this jacket away."
"I think something else is going on. The hellhound that did this? It's at the Agency right now. That's why they dropped iron when we were leaving."
"You think it's chasing you? Dude, sicking a hellhound on someone is a major no-no. I can't believe I'm about to say this, but compared to that, even this stink curse thing is no big deal. You think this Stiff Lip Mickey guy has that kind of stones?"
Before I can answer, a pitch-black sedan jumps the curb and runs us over.
I fight off the darkness just long enough to see the door open and the leprechaun approach.
When I wake up, the world smells even worse than it did when I passed out. I wonder for a second if I've been double cursed with the stink, but then I realize I'm in a dump. Sadly, the fetor of thousands of tons of trash still isn't enough to mask the reek that attacked me at dawn.
It also doesn't explain the awful scent filling my nostrils as I dangle ten feet above the ground, tied to a plastic lawn chair. The hellhound sitting on the ground below me, that explains the awful scent that is overpowering my own stench. I don't know if hellhounds literally come from Hell, but I know they smell like burning and like rotten flesh and like eggs that have been out in the heat for a couple weeks.
"Ah, you're awake."
I turn my head as much as I can--I think getting hit by the car might have broken my neck--and see the leprechaun standing next to the hellhound.
"Oh, hey there," I say, because I honestly don't know what you're supposed to say in these kinds of situations. I'm socially awkward on a good day, and this day is definitely not a good day. "How's it going?"
"I heard ya been lookin' for me."
"Me? No. Whoever told you that, they must have gotten some bad intel."
"Who told me that was the ghost of the man your partner killed earlier today. Said you mentioned wanting to find out where I spend my free time."
"Oh, that! Yeah, I just...you know, wanted to make amends for the trouble last night, get you a fruit sculpture or something. You seen those? Made out of like watermelon and pineapple and stuff? But shaped into things: roses and faces and all that. Very pretty, I figured you'd be able to appreciate it."
"Cut the shit, cop. I know you been lookin' for me, and I want to know why. And I don't mind torturing your partner until you tell me." He nods his head at someone to my left.
I hear Frank's screams of pain before I can manage to get my head turned, and I'm yelling at Mickey to stop before I can figure out what he's even doing. I see him nod again, and by the time I get turned, the thug is already moving the silver knife away from Frank's arm. Frank is also tied to a plastic lawn chair, and he, too, is dangling above the ground. One of Mickey's men is standing on a ladder, reaching up with a small knife to torture my partner.
The cut doesn't look very impressive, and at first, I just figure that Frank's being a big wimp. But then I notice that the wound is bubbling and smoking, like someone dumped acid into a paper cut. So apparently, he really is part werewolf, and apparently, that is a silver knife.
"Tell me," Mickey says.
I don't even bother trying to turn back to him--it takes forever, and it hurts like hell, and I need to conserve my energy.
"I didn't even know who you were, all right? I just remembered you put a curse on me, and I wanted to find you and ask you to take it back."
"The hell you talkin' about, boy?"
"The curse. The Curse of the Leprechaun!"
Apparently, he nodded again, because I see the thug takes the knife to Frank, running it from the inside of his elbow down his forearm. Blood boils from the wound, scalding his arm where it runs down before dripping into the dust below.
"Hey," I scream. "I told you! I told you what you wanted to know!"
"You told me jack shit, boy. Curse of the Leprechaun? There's no such thing!"
"What?" I struggle to turn my head back to him. "You told me last night that at dawn, the beast would be unleashed."
"Ay, and it was." He pats the hellhound on the flank, and it growls. "I reckoned Nancy would have caught ya before you'd had breakfast, but you've managed to draw it out. I'd be angry, but she had a good time, chasin' ya down. The thing at the cop station, that was so entertainin' that I'm tempted to let you free."
"That'd be good."
"Don't be an idiot. Yer goin' nowhere. Nancy, get 'im!"
"Wait!" I yell.
Mickey manages to hold back the beast, but just barely. "What?"
"If there wasn't a curse, then what the hell is up with this smell?"
He stares at me with a look of confusion for a few seconds and then shrugs. "I don't care. Go, Nancy."
The hellhound leaps from the ground, although I really don't think it needed to--it's so big that it probably could have reached me by standing on its haunches--and manages to fit my entire body into its first bite.
My skin rips as its teeth chomp closed, and I somehow end up losing one of my pinkies and part of a ring finger. I've never been swallowed whole before, and I have just enough time to wonder if I'll regenerate enough to still be alive when the hellhound poops me out. Then I'm hurling through the air.
I hit the ground, and the plastic yard chair shatters under me. I roll through garbage, unsure of what's going on, doing my best to handle it like the action hero I've always known I could be. My best, as usual, isn't nearly good enough, so instead to taking charge of the situation, I end up coming to rest in a pile of used diapers, with my hands and feet still tied.
The hellhound gags a couple times, and paws at its fiery nose. Then it retches a final time before vomiting up everything it has eaten today. One thing I never considered about a hellhound is its digestive tract. Apparently, being from Hell and all, it converts consumed matter to actual fire and brimstone. The beast pukes up flaming lava across the junkyard, annihilating Stiff Lip Mickey and all of his thugs.
Frank is spared, due to the fact that he's still hanging above the ground, and I'm still alive because I got coughed out into an exceptionally tall pile of diapers. The hellhound, having destroyed its promised master, is instantly transported back to Hell. Or wherever.
I manage to untie myself, after several minutes of struggling, and limp over to free Frank.
"I take it back," he says. "All day long, I've been giving you crap for stinking like...well, like crap. But it seems to have saved our lives. You tasted so bad that you made a hellhound throw up, and for that, I am forever in your debt."
"Is that what happened?" I ask, lowering him to the ground. "From where I was, all I could see was dog bowels and certain doom."
"That's what happened. And considering that we both survived, I would think you'd look a little more cheerful."
"Dude, this whole thing started because of the smell. I thought it was a curse, but I think Mickey was honestly clueless about that. I thought the 'unleashed beast' was a metaphor or something, but come to find out, it was just a giant-ass hellhound coming to eat me. So now what?"
Frank examines his wounds for a minute, starts to wipe them clean with his shirt, and then stops when he realizes how dirty his shirt is. He stares for a few seconds, and then starts laughing hysterically.
"Am I missing something, or did you just lose your mind?"
"You were standing at your window, right?"
"In your towel, because you had just gotten out of the shower."
"Yeah. Dude, we went over this already."
"Your towel, partner. Which you then rubbed all over your body."
"I'm not fol--oh."
"Just an exceptionally bad case of gas, brought on by too many shots, followed by too many tacos."
"I'll buy you a new jacket if you leave that part out of the report."
I leave him there to handle the Agency paperwork and the emergency responders while I go home to take a shower.
Posted under Short Stories on 5/23/2015