“Wake up, you sonuva bitch!”
I jerk out of my daze, and almost piss my pants. What is the matter with me? This hell-spawned killer is what, less than five floor away? And I’m up here snoozing. I try to be disgusted, but it takes too much effort.
“You’re takin’ too long,” I whisper. At this point, I’m not sure if even he can hear me. I figure I’ve got about ten minutes to get things taken care of, otherwise I’m a goner. Hurry up, Petey—now’s not the time to dilly. “Can you still hear me?” I ask. I’m not sure if the sound even made it out of my mouth that time.
“Yeah, I hear you, Wrath—you ain’t soundin’ so hot.”
“Might be dyin’.”
I hear him top another floor. “Yeah, you are. Wait for me, buddy. Wait for me.”
The room suddenly sways, and I vomit on myself. It’s mostly blood, either because I haven’t had anything to eat today or because there is some serious tore up stuff going on inside me. I hear a roar, and realize the beast has smelled the crap I just coughed up.
I headed out onto the porch to have a smoke while Petey did whatever it was he was going to do. I scratched a wooden match against the railing of the porch, and that’s when I saw the thing. Raw flesh, pink and bloody, muscle and bone sticking out, I had drawn my piece without even thinking about it, and had emptied it into the thing before I even realized what I was doing. I was screaming, too, I guess.
It reached out and grabbed me with those crazy hands, grabbed me by the shoulders, and hurled me to the ground. I crashed right through the wooden porch, down onto the damp earth below. The thing was right on top of me, and then Petey was there, calling it off, laughing his ass off.
The thing backed up, growling so loud that I could hear it over my screams. Even after I realized I was still screaming, even after I realized that Petey was laughing at my expense, and even after the thing had backed off, I still couldn’t stop screaming.
Petey finally got himself under control, looked back over his shoulder at the beast, and then turned back to me, nothing but serious.
“You need to stop screaming, Wrath—screams get it…excited, and when it gets excited, it gets harder to control. And believe me, man—you don’t want to see the shit this thing will get up to when it’s out of control.
That shut me up. My mouth snapped shut, and the echo of my teeth clacking together echoed through the woods. The beast was still staring at me, but it had stopped growling.
“What the hell is that thing, Petey?’
“What is it? Hellhound, I guess you could call it. I try not to think about what it is. I just call it Doug.”
“I have to call it something.”
“What’s it doing here?”
“It’s here to…I tried to tell you, Wrath. I tried to get you to bail. Doug is the part of things you really don’t want to see.”
“What the hell did this guy do to get a hellhound called in on ‘im?”
“Don’t know, don’t care. Something serious—only the guys at the very top know me for what I am, and know about Doug.”
“What are you, Petey?”
“Just another one of those things that you don’t want to know about.”
The thing started growling again, and when I looked over, I saw that it was staring at me, drool dripping from its fangs.
“This one isn’t for you, Doug,” Petey said, and the creature quit growling. Petey looked back at me and said, “I’m gonna take him in and get this thing over with. Go wait in the car.”
I took off without another word, heading towards the car, but looking back over my shoulder the entire time. I saw them both go into the house, and the screams started immediately.
I doubled back before I made it to the car. Worst mistake of my life, I can honestly say. I don’t know why I did it. I guess that as soon as I got away from the thing, I just couldn’t believe it—couldn’t believe in its existence. It had to have been a dog. Maybe some sort of crazy costume or something. I could see Petey doing something like that—dressing up a dog to scare a guy. Sure it sounds goofy, but finding a scary costume for a dog has got to be easier than finding a Hellhound.
This is where my line of thought had led me when I stepped back up onto the porch. And then I remembered what had happened to Petey on the street, and what he had looked like in the car. I peeked up over the windowsill and there was the thing, looking right back at me. I screamed again, and toppled backwards off the porch.
“What did I tell you?” Petey caught me under the arms before I hit the ground. “I told you to go to the car, I told you not to scream. And here you are: not in the car, and screaming like a little bitch with a skinned knee.”
I stammered for an excuse, but nothing came.
“Just shut up, Wrath. You want to see so bad? Fine—come on in.” He grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and dragged me into the building, just like a father who is dragging his son inside to deal a whippin’. He tossed me into a recliner in the corner, and walked back over to the mark.
“Joey Thumbs passed out as soon as he saw Doug. Can’t say it wasn’t expected, though. I learned early on that that’s what people are gonna do. Which is why I bring this.” He pulled a syringe out of his bag, jammed it into Joey’s arm without ceremony or caution, and pushed the plunger down. Joey’s eyelids began to flutter instantly. Petey dropped the syringe back into the bag and stood up. “Speed,” he said.
“Just to keep him awake for his torture?”
“If you’re gonna do a job, do it right.”
Joey woke up all at once, and began screaming as soon as he did. Can’t say I blamed him. That thing was right in front of him, mouth open, fangs bared. It took a chunk out of him—everything from below his right eye to the bottom of his jaw. Just latched and CHOMP! Joey’s eyeball dropped from his skull onto the floor, where the creature licked it up.
“That’s just for the shit you said about my mother, Joey,” Petey said. “We’ll give it a few seconds, and then we’ll get serious about things.”
I saw that there was something going on with the areas where the creature had bitten. The edges of the skin started out red, like infection, and quickly turned deep purple, like a bruise, moving up towards his forehead. And then the skin started to swell, and within a matter of seconds, the boils burst open, dripping bluish pus all down the front of Joey’s expensive shirt. He screamed the entire time.
The pus instantly started burning through his clothes, and the air filled with a horrid stench as soon as it reached his chest and stomach underneath. Doug went back for a second bite, this time claiming Joey’s hand…the good one.
Petey waited until the infection had spread up Joey’s arm, until the boils popped, until the pus started melting though the chair and through joey’s pants, and then he took out a Polaroid camera.
“Say cheese, Joey.” He took a picture. “You want to go stand by ‘im, Wrath? Preserve the memory and such?”
I ran outside and puked. When I could walk again, I went to the car, and waited. I don’t know how long I was out there, but it seemed like I could hear the screams for hours. At one point, I got out of the car and puked again.
Petey finally arived, carrying his little black bag, whistling a little tune. He looked like a million bucks. When he saw the shot-up, broke-down car, he made a disgusted face.
“Look, Wrath, this piece is goin’ nowhere. We’re gonna have to hoof it to that town a couple miles back. I can make a call from a pay phone, we’ll be back to the city by morning.”
“Where is that thing, Petey?”
“Don’t you worry, Wrath—it’s gone for the night.”
We started walking.
“What the hell, Petey?” I couldn’t think of a more specific question at the moment, even though I had had forever to think of one.
“It’s a long story, man.”
“We got time.”
“It’s a long story that I ain’t tellin’.”
“Then let me just ask one question.”
“You can ask, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to answer.”
“Why, Petey? I mean, Why?”
“Just one of those things, buddy. I was movin’ up, you know? I mean, these guys, they were all about showin’ me respect and shit. Respect, man, what the hell good is that? What I was after was the power. But you know how these things work—guys like us, we get to a certain point, and that’s it. Wrong family, wrong blood, all that bullshit. That guy Joey? He was next in line for the Panatolli crew. What do you think about that?”
“Not much, as I didn’t even know the guy.”
“He was a piece of shit, that’s what he was. But because he had the right connections, the right blood, and the right name, he got the power. Me, I wasn’t never gonna get that. So I decided to go a different route. I stopped doing the lightweight stuff, only took the jobs that seemed impossible.” He laughed a little to himself. “For a while, there, I thought I might have to take you out, man—you were getting all the good jobs. Any time an impossible job came up, they called on you. But the thing is, you were kinda…I don’t know, what? Finicky?”
“I don’t do the crazy stuff. Things like tonight, that’s the reason why.”
“Don’t me a moron, man. Things like tonight aren’t why you stopped taking the messy jobs. Things like tonight, you never even knew that shit could happen. You don’t take the messy stuff because you don’t like the wetworks.”
“I don’t like wetworks because the guys that do that kind of crap are nuts.”
“Can’t argue with you there. But that was my ticket, see? Take the hits that the notorious Wrath was passing on. Nothing too nasty. I’ll do shit that will make you puke up your toenails. And these goofy bastards with their 'respect this' and 'respect that,' they ate that up. Because that was a way to truly save face, see?
“Some guy messes with you, disrespects you? Killin’ isn’t good enough. You get some guy to really mess ‘em up, right?”
“I heard rumors about you losin’ your shit—I just never cared to follow it up.”
“Good call there. Because I did start to lose my shit there for a while. The thing is, I was doing these huge jobs for huge people, and I was doing them too well. One thing you don’t want to do is scare people with power. Because fear is a sign of weakness, and the last thing powerful people want is a weakness, you know what I’m sayin’?”
“You scared them so they decided to take you out.”
“Eight times, Wrath! What the hell is that shit about? Eight times! I’m surprised they didn’t get you to do it.”
“They contacted me.”
“Why didn’t you take the job?”
“I had a lot on my plate at the time.” I wasn’t gonna tell him that I didn’t want to go through the soul-searching I would have to do if I decided to whack out one of the only friends I’ve ever had in my life.
“I’ll bet you did. Wrath, you big softie.”
“Anyways, so I figured I had to do somethin’, right? I was scared, Wrath. I didn’t know, man, that you weren’t gonna take that hit, see?”
I could see how scared that would make a guy, always wonderin’ if he had a guy like me comin’ after ‘im. I myself didn’t worry about it much, because I figured that when it was my time, it was my time, but even I had some nights where I woke up in my bed at three in the morning, sure that somethin’ had jerked me from sleep. It’s an awful feeling, roaming around your house in your boxer shorts and your gun drawn, wondering if this is it. This job, it ain’t the best for mental relaxation, in case you’re wonderin’.
“I was doin’ huge hits by then, man. Like fuckin’ Castro hits, you know? Except I never missed. And the bigger the job, the bigger the guys that want you dead afterwards. I didn’t know what to do. So one night, as a last resort, I stumble into the catholic church, right? I figure I’ll light a candle or whatever it is those people do. I’m walking up the steps, and this guy steps out of the shadows. He goes, ‘There’s nothing in there that can help you.’ I was so wired, man, I blasted him about twenty times before I knew what I was doin’. I hadn’t slept in like eight days, I was all jacked up on speed, which is just super when you’re already paranoid, let me tell ya. The guy, he just, like, looked at me and chuckled.”
“Bullshit,” I told him, but I didn’t really think it was bullshit—I mean, I had seen Petey do almost that exact same thing earlier in the night.
“No, man, I’m serious. And then he goes, ‘Yours is not a business of light—nothing can help you now but mastering the dark.’ Cheesy as hell, right? But I was so messed up, if you would’a told me that Amway was the only thing gonna save my ass, I’d be out there selling laundry soap door to door right now. Long story short—he told me to follow, I followed.”
“That’s not for this story, my man. You already asked your question. And, if I’m not mistaken, it was ‘why.’ Why the hellhound? For protection, actually. That old man, the one that led me to darkness, he gave me…gifts. You saw me take those bullets. I got a few cards up my sleeve like that. I thought that would be enough. It wasn’t. From there, the jobs just got bigger, which meant that I was scaring people who were even more powerful, which meant that I needed even more to keep me alive.”
“A vicious cycle.”
“Vicious cycle, my ass. I got Doug, and that put an end to all that shit. Doug can sniff a trap from a hundred miles, and once he smells ‘em, he ends 'em.”
“A hundred miles?”
“Man, I don’t know. He’s found everything that was tossed my way so far. People don’t come after my ass anymore. A couple times, and when word got around what happened to ‘em, nobody ever tried to take me out again. He’s a guard dog, I guess you could say. I let him help out with this other business to keep him entertained.”
“So he’s really a Hellhound?”
“I guess, man. All I know for sure is that he’s here to watch my back. Sniff out traps and shit.”
“And you? What are you?’
He looked over at me and smiled. His mouth full of fangs gleamed in the fading moonlight. “Me? I’m just Petey.”