I realize I’ve been rambling on about my princess and weddings and love and stuff like that lately, and I guess I need to put a stop to that. Not really my style, anyway. Plus, you start mentioning anything other than violence, drinking, or cigarettes around here, you’ve suddenly got people coming out of the woodwork to tell you how you’ve gone soft. So to prove to you all that I haven’t gone entirely flaccid on you, I wrote you a story about flowers and unicorns and rainbows.
“So you got the stuff?”
“I got it,” I tell the guy. “Where you want to meet?”
“End of the Rainbow—you know it?”
I know it, all right. The dive-iest dive bar in the seediest part of the seediest part of town. That part of town, you can get shot twice while you’re distracted by the guy stabbing you, and that’s without stepping off the subway. Any sane man would call the deal off right then. But I ain’t a man, and my sanity has been questioned by some of the best in the business.
“I know it,” I tell the guy on the other end of the phone.
“Meet me there, eleven tonight.”
I hang up without saying another word. He knows that means I’m cool with the meet. I pull a cigarette out of the pack on my desk—unfiltered Lucky Strikes—and light it. No matter how many times I spark one of these puppies up, I always love that first inhalation. You can feel your body relax, you can taste the flavor of the smoke as it rolls its cancerous way down your throat, and then you just hold it for a second, letting the nicotine do its job. A little piece of wonderful in a world full of shit. Anything that kills you as bad as cigarettes do has got to be great.
I drop the box of strike-anywhere matches back onto the desk, and stare at the other box that’s already sitting there. It’s about six inches long, maybe three inches wide, two inches deep. About the same size as one of those checkbook boxes that your new checks come in.
A little gray thing that’s made of a metal alloy of some type, with rubber o-rings all in it to prevent any air whatsoever from leaking out. Also, there’s a little slit in the top of the box for the card key. It’s virtually indestructible, but all that security comes at a price—you can barely fit anything inside of it. Not good for much, really.
I had it custom made.
What’s inside right now is a little pile of red flowers. They’re about as big around as a dime, and as thick as the rim of a coffee cup. You can fit quite a few of them into the important little box.
You can take one of those little flowers and use it to make one of the most powerful aphrodisiacs in the world. Or you can use it to make one of the most powerful stimulates in the world. A corner of one of the petals is enough to get a dorm full of college boys stoned for a week.
You have to be very careful with it, is what I’m saying. You try opening the little gray box without full biohazard gear on, you’ll O.D. on the fumes alone.
Hard to find. But that’s what I do, is find the hard to find.
The name’s Burdoch. I have a first name, but people don’t use it. No point, really, as I won’t answer to it, anyway. I live on the same planet as you, but in a different world. I live in the shadows between imagination and nightmares. I live in what most people would call a fantasy world.
Actually, that’s where I do business. Technically, I live in Astoria.
I catch the train as it pulls away from the station, find a seat towards the back of the car, and slouch down to where I look like I’m sleeping. You might think that it would be a little conspicuous having a three-foot horn sticking out of your forehead, even in this city, but the truth is, most people don’t notice. Fact of the matter is, most people don’t notice me at all.
Things like me, we’re all over the place, but most folks don’t catch it. Nobody really knows why, just like they don’t know why once in a while a norm actually does see us. We don’t care either way.
I’m a unicorn, see. Chances are, if you’re picturing me, you’re doing it about a hundred percent wrong. If you have an image of some noble horse with an ivory horn and a shiny mane, you couldn’t be further from reality.
I can’t speak for all of us, but I ain’t never seen any unicorn like that. All the ones I seen, they look like me, for the most part. Maybe not as many scars. We’re generally around seven to eight feet tall, and we look like big-ass monkeys, kind of. Fur everywhere, white or off-white, with an extra bit hanging down the back of our heads—the mane, as it were. A giant horn, almost always chipped, stained, and dirty-looking. Generally, the horns are cream colored, but nowadays, you see a lot of the punk kids getting all into decorations and shit. Usually, they don’t live so long.
It’s hard business, being a unicorn. We can sit around with any other species, discussing philosophy and shit, and talk like human beings and all that, but when we come in contact with one another, we generally just try to kill or fuck. Either way, it’s never a pretty sight.
The guys you see with busted horns and missing eyes, those are generally the guys you don’t want to screw with. Because that’s how they look after winning.
Our faces aren’t flat like monkey faces, though. More elongated, which is probably what gave rise to the popular “practically a pony” bullshit. Plus when we start moving real fast, we sometimes drop to all fours. I guess from a distance, you could maybe confuse a unicorn for something like a horse. Up close, we’re more like the abominable snowman with a head spike.
Not all mythical creatures are real, but you’d be surprised if you ever walked into an underside bar like The End of the Rainbow, where guys like me hang out. This isn’t a lesson in social studies, though.
I stepped out of the train, pushing people out of my way. I got into this habit a long time ago, and it’s too fun to stop. People might catch a glimpse of me as I shove past them, but usually they only know that they’ve been crashed into, and looking around for the perpetrator just leads to more confusion.
I stepped out of the subway into the Union Square park, and made the five-yard journey to the newsstand there on the sidewalk. Right behind there, there’s a door. Don’t worry, you’ll never find it—it’s behind a shadow. I could no more tell you how to step through shadows than you could tell me how to breathe—it’s just something I know how to do.
I open the door and walk onto the overcast street that waits beneath it. Stepping into that dark underside isn’t exactly like suddenly finding yourself walking on the ceiling instead of the floor, but it’s close enough. Always a little darker, and you always feel upside down. You really want to get a feel for the kind of place it is, just think about the fact that none of the people spawned there feel natural about it. Most of the freaks like me head out to the top world as soon as they can get away. Better to live in a world as a figment of imagination than as a reality in this kind of reality.
I’d be lying if I said I liked it, but there’s a comforting familiarity about it that always makes me feel glad to be back…for about two seconds, I mean, and then I’m ready to head back topside.
“You got a buck, pal?” a gravelly voice asks from behind me.
“Get fucked,” I tell him, and start walking away. I hear a rustle of movement behind me, and duck down just in time to avoid the piece of wood that the bastard’s trying to hit me with. It looks covered in disease already, but as if that’s not enough, it also has about two dozen rusty nails knocked through it.
Leprechauns, man. I’ve never met a good one. If they’ve got jobs, they’re always starting fights in bars after work. If they don’t have jobs, they’re always starting fights on the streets. Even if I had given this little rat bastard a buck, he would’ve taken a swing at me—it’s just what they do.
One thing you might not know, is that they can change their size. Makes them really hard to fight. For example, this shit just took a swing at my head, one that I barely ducked away from, but when I spin around with a left hook, he’s about two feet tall, and taking another swing with his tetanus tool. I jump over the second swing, and kick out.
Unicorns don’t have hooves, but some of us wear steel-toed boots, and I catch him on the chin as he grows—he was gonna try to grow tall enough to catch me with a third swing while I was still in the air dodging his second one—and knock him on his ass.
He’s up quick, though, and pissed. That’s the good thing about fighting Leprechauns, is that they’re stupid as a pile of shit. They get mad too easy, just start charging around, lunging instead of fighting. I’ve met a couple of ‘em who could hold on to their tempers, and they were like killing machines. But this guy, he’s just pathetic.
I step to the side, pulling a switch-blade out of my pocket with a quick, comfortable motion, and the six-inch blade springs out as soon as it clears the fabric of my jacket. I’ve danced this dance before, with better partners.
I catch him under the chin as he passes by, his roar of rage changing to a scream of pain. I drop my hand just a bit, so the blade slides right under his jaw bone and up behind his ear. A quick stabbing motion, he’s dead before he hits the ground.
I grab his watch and empty out his wallet—live Leprechauns are useless, but a dead one can provide you with all sorts of treasure—and then I’m on my way.
I get to the bar about an hour early, order a boilermaker, and head back to a corner booth to watch the joint.
I’m not surprised to see someone sitting in the booth already. It’s the best seat in the house—you get a full view of the entire joint, you got your back to a wall, and the emergency exit’s like five feet away. You hang out doing business in a place like End of the Rainbow, this is the seat you want.
“You’re in my spot,” I say, setting my mug on the table.
I don’t know what this guy is—maybe troll, I don’t know—but he looks dumb and ugly, and I wonder for a second if he’s gonna cause trouble. Then he spots the horn, counts the rings, and looks into my eyes. The rings are years, and if you've got more than ten, you're a force to be reckoned with.
He stands up without a word, moves to a different booth. Anyone else tried to pull the shit that I just did, they would find themselves in a fight to the death before they could blink.
Nobody fucks with a unicorn.
I sit down, drop my smokes on the table, drop my matches on the table, and knock back my drink. I signal to the waitress as I light up a cigarette.
You wouldn’t think a dump like this would have table help, but the nymphs and fairies flock to the dives for employment. Easiest place on the planet to peddle a quick handjob for a hundred bucks. From there, the price just goes up, but trust me—it’s worth it. Only thing I can think of that’s better than screwing a nymph is screwing a mermaid, but after you nail a mermaid, she tries to drown you. Probably part of the fun, now that I think about it.
The girl that brings my drink smiles sweetly and seductively as she asks me if I need anything else. She’s a cute one, all right. Her wings extend down to her calves, which means she’s probably at least a hundred years old. Looks about twenty.
With age comes experience, and since I don’t have anything to do for the next hour, I drop a couple of bills onto the table. She slides ‘em off the table, looks at ‘em real good, and drops under the table.
She’s done about thirty minutes later, and she glides out from under the table like a professional walking out of an office. “Made me work a little harder than I thought I would have to,” she says, smiling.
I drop another bill on the table, nod to her.
She grabs it and walks back over to the bar, where her orders have been getting swiped by other waitresses. She pours a beer, brings it over and puts it on the table. “On the house,” she says.
They like me here. I tip good, and I don’t usually kill people when I’m in for a drink.
He shows up ten minutes early, looking around the room timidly. I don’t know what the hell the guy is, but he’s got to be an imagining of some sort, or he’d already be dead down in this neighborhood. He claims that he’s a norm, but I gotta call bullshit on that one. I don’t care who you are—any norm would’a been slaughtered within about two seconds of stepping through the shadows down here.
He sits down across from me and waits.
I take the box out of my pocket and slide it across the table to him, along with the card key. You don’t have to be discreet in this world—it’s all dirty goings-on, and if you try to be sneaky about it, you just look like a mark.
He takes a card out of his pocket, drops it on the table in front of me.
How this works is, he gets the flowers, I get the card. It’s like a debit card, but at a bank that handles amounts of money that would make any other bank on the planet shit themselves.
I drop the card into my pocket and stand up. “That’s it?” He asks.
“Did you wanna do a little cuddling?” I tip a wink at the waitress as I leave the bar.
I slip through to the upside, walk across the street to the drug store, and slide the card into the ATM. I’m expecting the screen to be filled with zeroes, with the number one in front of all of ‘em. What I see is three zeroes, a decimal after the first one.
It doesn’t take me long to find him—finding things that are hard to find is what I do.
He works topside in some huge office building downtown. If I go in and just start beating the shit out of him, it’s gonna cause a scene, and imaginary or not, I’ll probably wind up getting busted—like I said earlier, some of them can actually see us, and I’m guessing that this guy has a couple of guys like that working for him.
He’s extra careful, so I have to wait a couple of days to make my move. I don’t mind waiting. I know that he still has the flowers, and I know that he’s got ‘em stashed somewhere in the underside.
When he finally goes back to get them, that’s when I move in.
Whatever he is, he’s new to double-crossing business. Not enough guards, not enough protection. He’s traveling with a little band of goblins, and it takes me all of about two minutes to tear them apart.
“I’ll give you the money,” he squeals, pressing back up against the alley wall that I’ve chased him into.
“Here, look, take it—this is the real one!” He’s holding a card identical to the one he handed me earlier. I rip the card out of his hand and take two of his fingers with it. I ignore his screams as I pull a little metal box out of my pocket. I slide the card through and look at the tiny readout. It flashes a one followed by more zeroes than I can count.
I could have brought this little device the first time, but I never figured he would be dumb enough to try to cross me. I put the device and the card back into my pocket, and look back up at him.
He’s whimpering in the corner, and I see that his fingers have grown back. “Neat trick,” I tell him. “Gonna make it that much more fun for me.”
“Please, just leave me alone. You’ve got your money! What more do you want?”
“For starters, the flowers.”
“Are you out of your mind? I just paid you for them.”
I’m not too good at being a businessman. I yank him to his feet, tear off his ears, and stuff them into his mouth as he screams. They regenerate as he falls to the ground vomiting, so I pick him up and do it again.
By the third set of ears I’ve fed to him, he’s more than willing to give me the flowers. He walks to the alley wall, pushes a series of bricks, and a door slides open. Good secret room—I hadn’t even noticed it, and I’m good at noticing shit like that.
He hands over the little box, and I type in a sequence that makes the whole thing see-through for a second.
“Sure,” I tell him, and throw him back out into the alley. I tuck the box of flowers into another pocket and crack my knuckles. “All right, let’s get down to business.”
“But I gave you everything you wanted.”
There’s no use trying to explain it to him.
I make sure that he splatters all the way up to the third floor, and I make sure that there’s not a chance in hell that he’s gonna regenerate.
He keeps yelling out why am I doing this, but I don’t waste my breath telling him—he wouldn’t understand about reputation. He wouldn’t understand that if I let a guy like him live after screwing me over, I’d be dead by morning, tough guy or not.
Even if I wanted to explain it to him, I doubt he’d hear me over his screams. He wouldn’t understand that I have to make an example out of him, and he wouldn’t understand that he broke the cardinal rule:
Nobody fucks with a unicorn.