He hated what the scene had become.
The club was crowded and sweltering from all the bodies. The blasting music—if you wanted to call synths and drums, with two sampled lines of lyrics, music—rattled his rib cage like an extra heartbeat. Tastes were changing, Industrial more than Punk. Punk had gone the way of disco, the crowd younger now, more strung out, more annoying.
The line he had done an hour ago had been a mistake. It always seemed to be these days. Too hyped, he took a generous swill of his vodka, hoping it would bring on the low.
The scag on his arm, drunk and chatty despite the ear numbing noise, wouldn’t leave yet, but wouldn’t stop hanging on him either, leaving him anxious and pissed. She smelled of cheap cigarettes, sweat and something else … ripe, too ripe. If he did manage to get her out of here no way she was spreading out on his sheets.
He downed the rest of the vodka in one pull.
There was nothing for him here, despite the money he had sunk into this hole—a business venture, but more like an experiment gone wrong. Nothing outside of here either.
This was a pathetic excuse for a life.
He hadn’t taken a job in over a year. He hadn’t needed to, enough cash in the bank and stashed elsewhere to last. He had passed out in swanker clubs that made more money off a single customer than this place made in an entire night. Yet, every time he ventured into that upscale world, despite the amassing digits on his bank statement, he couldn’t overcome the feeling he was obviously trespassing. Not comfortable for someone who spent most of his life becoming professionally invisible. Traveling just depressed him; he found no place less boring than New York. He’d bought things—leather jackets that cost more than his father had ever spent on him, drugs, clothes, women—All ended up making him feel used and cheated, stupid for wanting them in the first place. Every desire had been satisfied, and no new ones had come to take their place.
Retirement was feeling less like a reward and more and more like just not working.
The mashing mass of humanity around him drugged themselves stupid, drank until they were sick, danced, ground on each other in corners, all trying to find the “good time” they thought they deserved. If he blew this club and their stupid faces to Kingdom Come, would he be doing them a favor? Maybe, but that kind of gesture took will. Hell, just asking the question took a measure of caring and he found he couldn’t care less.
The lawyer walked in just when he had decided to leave.
He watched the plea peddler, a mid-forties prick in a designer suit and a stupid comb-over. The man hovered in the doorway with his briefcase tucked under his arm, his eyes adjusting to the dark. The ugly sore thumb started walking, looking around, dodging puddles of stale beer and black sticky stains so as not to ruin expensive shoes.
Semi-buzzed, but close to sober now, he followed the suit’s weave across the room, monitoring the man’s finicky approach from where he was sitting in the farthest booth—the one against the wall, entrance and exit in view. Old habits that kept you alive didn’t die easily.
Yup, he thought, clearly a lawyer. He didn’t have the swagger of a high-end dealer; he held himself too tight. A bottom feeder, all right. A couple flashy pens, the lawyer’s weapon of choice, peeked from his jacket pocket, and he modeled the put-upon look of someone on the payroll.
“Mr. Snow?” the man yelled over the beat, not even looking at who he was addressing, his eyes darting all over to take in the surroundings that clearly both offended and scared him.
Snow loved when they said his name. At least Gabe had been right about that. “Snow” made the speaker sound stupid. “Mr. Snow”, like they were looking for something light, a fairy-tale, a child’s cartoon character. He wasn’t. Ask a child on the street for three days straight in February what he thinks of snow. Snow was cold, snow covered, snow killed, snow swept the world clean.
“What do you want?” Snow barked, but with the horrific music blaring so loud, he might as well be mouthing the words, even to his own ears.
“Is there someplace here we can talk? I have some papers for you, from your brother!” He shouted and held up his briefcase.
What the hell did that bastard want? If he thinks I’m taking a job for him … after everything. That would be just like the psycho. What a shit. Maybe I should just transfer the contract a little closer to home.
Snow rose, throwing off the girl’s arm, grabbed his long coat, and started pushing through gyrating “dancers” towards the black exit door in the corner. The lawyer followed, and soon they were both ascending to the alley on nearly rusted-out metal stairs. Snow began walking through the grimy summer night towards his apartment.
“Mr. Snow?” the lawyer called, trying to keep up with him while motioning for his driver in a black Cadillac to stay with them.
“We’re going to my building. I don’t look at papers in clubs.” Snow kept walking, his eardrums still reverberating from the noise, his eyes adjusting from the neon to the yellow glow of the street lamps. He didn’t really care if the lawyer was close enough to hear. “I’m old.” He laughed. “I need more light.”
Several blocks of the suit nearly running to keep up with Snow’s long stride was beginning to fray his already strung-out nerves. By the time they reached the five-story walk-up, Snow knew that copious amounts of alcohol would be needed to deal with Mr. Comb-over. They walked into the alley that led to the side door and stair to the 3rd floor, where Snow’s apartment started. There was a Chinese variety shop on the first two floors. The owner paid rent sometimes, let Snow take what he wanted … and got him anything he needed without questions.
By the time they reached the apartment, Gabriel’s lawyer was gasping, not just at the unaccustomed walking—clearly this guy used his driver—but at the unexpected luxury. Snow could have lived almost anywhere. He had worked close to twenty years in his chosen profession, long enough to accumulate an amount of cash that couldn’t be spent without actually trying, and Snow tired of trying long ago. He lived in Chinatown because it amused him to do so—close to food he didn’t hate, quiet at night, and neighbors who could give a shit about some white guy’s comings and goings. It was ideal for a man who had lost what little ambition he started with beyond the wish to be left alone.
“Can I get a glass of water?” The lawyer wheezed as he looked around at the red walls and modern black furniture. Snow motioned for the man to follow him up another stair into his seldom-used kitchen. The switches near the landing illuminated the space—the dining room, open kitchen, and the living room beyond—expansive for New York. At least two, possibly three, separate apartments would have fit on the one floor. The lawyer seemed to be making that assessment, turning his entire body to take in the space.
Snow filled a glass from the tap, handed it to Gabriel’s man, and took a beer for himself out of the fridge. The suited man gently deposited his briefcase on the kitchen table. He did it reverently, like a priest would place the chalice on the altar, then turned some dials and pressed the locks with a practiced precision. They snapped open, loud clicks in the silent apartment. The lawyer raised the lid with a grace he hadn’t exhibited before, and drew out a large packet. Clearly, document-dealing was what this man was meant for.
The papers were held together by a black metal clip and accompanied by what looked like a hand-made heavy-paper envelope with a red wax circle holding it closed. Embedded in the wax was an indentation of Gabe’s ring, whose twin circled Snow’s finger.
The lawyer didn’t look up from his papers.
“Your name is Snow? Mr. Raguel Snow?”
“That’s me,” Snow said and took another long swig of his beer.
The lawyer squinted. “That’s an … unusual name, Raguel,” he said slowly. Clearly he thought it was more strange than rare.
Snow was beginning to hate this guy.
The paper-pusher shook off the moment of being human and got back to his work. He looked uneasy as he cleared his throat. “Well, I am sorry to inform you, Mr. Snow, but your brother, my former employer, Gabriel Sol, died last Tuesday. I would have contacted you sooner, but it was hard to find you, and there was a question of issue. Your brother made provisions for a child, but we didn’t find any. The estate will still be contestable should any heirs be found, you understand. I’m surprised you didn’t contact me. You must have heard about it on the news, in the newspaper?”
Snow knew the shock of Gabe’s death must have broadcast across his features. The lawyer would take it for weakness. He put on his work face.
“I don’t read newspapers, and I don’t watch the news.” Snow took another swig, finishing the beer.
“Yes, well … I’m, sorry … I have to be the bearer of bad news.” The lawyer hesitated in a fumbling condolence, making it about his discomfort, the prick. Jesus, Gabe could sure pick some losers.
Flustered at first, then hiding behind his work to find his feet again, Mr. Comb-over handed Snow the first stack of papers. “This is his last will, along with explanation of the estate’s assets and their location. You’d be a very rich man…” The lawyer almost smiled. “…if your brother wasn’t under investigation. Almost everything but the Swiss assets, page five, and the ones in Bermuda, page ten, were seized either by the state of New York or by the F.B.I..
Snow didn’t even look past the first page. He wasn’t fooled by the lawyer’s backhanded indifference. The shark had probably taken over half of what was left already. That’s why he was in such a hurry. Snow’s brother—Gabriel the bastard, Gabriel the creator and destroyer—was meat, and in a couple more papers this lawyer’s job was done. Get done and get out, huh?
And this all meant nothing if the other envelope was what he thought it was.
“I was also to give you this in the case my employer died … before his time.” The lawyer handed over the thick paper with the wax closure.
Snow held the envelope in his hand, not moving.
“Murdered, huh?” Snow was surprised how flat his own voice sounded for something so … life-changing.
“Yes,” the lawyer answered with an air of resignation that could have come from his gravy train crashing and burning. “His throat was slashed.”
“Well, that’s still up in the air. Our people in the NYPD say it was a woman A.D.A. named Chandler your brother was … holding, but I heard the guards have a crazy story about a monster that helped her escape. It sounds like too many of them were partaking heavily in some other facets of your brother’s business when they should’ve been doing their job.” The lawyer stood tall and snotty. Judging others looked like a skill he pursued on an almost professional level.
“Yeah, they should have done their goddamn job,” at least they agreed on that.
Snow broke open the wax and unfolded the thick paper. There wasn’t much of an instruction on the sheet, but it was enough.
The God-King’s Death.
Snow folded the paper closed again.
“Did you bring his ring?” Snow asked, still looking at the folded paper.
“It’s still in evidence. You can petition for it, but chances are unlikely…”
“Doesn’t matter … Gabriel cared more about these than I ever did.” Snow pulled the heavy ring off his finger to show the lawyer.
Veritas vos liberabit
He shoved the ring back down his knuckle imagining the words burning the skin the ancient band surrounded.
Snow tapped the paper on the table.
“We need a drink.”
“Mr. Snow, I really don’t have the time. I just have a few more things—”
“No, really,” Snow yelled, going to the bar on the other side of the kitchen, his coat billowing out behind him, “I insist. We have to drink to my brother, and it’s Raguel. That’s my name. You should use it.”
Snow could hear the lawyer sifting through his briefcase as he poured the Jack.
“What kind of name is Raguel? I’ve never heard of it. Family name?”
Snow walked back to the table with two cut-glass tumblers in his hand and placed one in front of the man.
“It’s not my real name. My brother fixed it. Our old man didn’t deserve anyone named after him, so Gabe picked us new names. He thought names had power. He got them out of the sick-dark Catholic school books the nuns gave him. ‘Gabriel—the highest of the angels, the messenger of God, bringer of the Kingdom.’” Snow raised his glass to the ceiling before downing the contents in one pull.
Snow wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his long coat. “My rat bastard brother always thought too much of himself. ‘I’m going to give them the world they want,’ he told me. ‘Riches for the strong, sin and death for the weak.’ ”
“And what does your name mean?” the lawyer asked, trying to move on. He took a mouthful of the bourbon and grimaced. He was probably as tired of Gabe’s rambling bull as Snow was.
“Raguel? He’s an angel too—’The Vengeance of the Lord.’ Do you have the employee listings?”
The lawyer sifted through his briefcase again, and grabbed a printout. “Names and addresses,” the lawyer stated, placing the document on the table between them. “Although, I’m certain a lot of them have moved on by now, maybe to a rival. They seemed to have scattered. I doubt you’ll be able to find them to restart the business.” The lawyer smiled, as if he knew more than Snow. “Hazard of this type of work, when the money’s gone…”
“You know, that’s the problem with you suits. You just don’t get it.” Snow pointed with the hand that held the empty glass. “It was never about the money. Gabe made money in every way there was. There was nothing he couldn’t sell or steal. Sold me out long ago. I promised to make him pay, but then … family.” Snow shrugged his shoulders and placed the tumbler on the table.
“But the money? ” he continued, “The money was the means. It was all about power for him, collecting people, owning them. He still owns me…” Snow shook his head, rolling the empty glass between his fingers. He was quiet for a time.
“You know the ultimate power?” he asked the suit.
The lawyer sighed. “Life and Death?”
Yup, he’s used to Gabe’s rants, all right.
Snow touched his nose, then pointed. “You got it in one. I’m not interested in the business. That was Gabe’s game.” Snow took the almost full glass of whiskey from his guest and placed it down on the computer printout. The unexpected exchange confused the lawyer, but he quickly hid the discomfort.
“I made Gabe a promise,” Snow continued. “I owed him for what he did to us, for us. Now it’s time to pay. So what’s your name?”
Mr. Comb-over looked up, a self-satisfied smirk mangling his ugly features even more. It said, you are beneath me, you can’t afford me.
“Mr. Snow, does that really matter?”
“No.” Snow turned around and walked a few steps, opened his coat to his sides. “I just like to learn their names.” He drew his Glock in one fluid motion, shoulder holster to firing stance, and pulled the trigger before the lawyer had a chance to react. The man was thrown by the bullet’s impact to the black tile floor.
“God!” the shaking almost-corpse exclaimed as he held the wet hole near center mass, legs kicking like he was trying to swim backwards from his assassin.
They almost always said something like that, protesting, beseeching Heaven, but God didn’t care. God wasn’t in the game for love, or comfort, or justice, or any of that. If He was, he would keep little boys from being burned and frozen, starved and raped. If God cared He would give a shit about the cries in the night.
No, God’s just like the rest of us—in it for the power and in it for the high. I just do His will.
I am The Vengeance, and I do my job.
Before the lawyer could cry out again, Snow took the head shot, ending the ineffectual thrashing and obliterating the man.
Gabe was a fucking loon, but this is what he wanted—death to everyone involved—and for all the years, for getting Snow in and out of Hell, Snow owed him, and Snow owed New York for putting them together in the first place.
The lawyer’s wallet lay crushed under his body near a rapidly expanding blood lake. Snow rescued the cash, a sizable amount, and read the name on the license. He flipped to it on the print out. He bent to the floor, dipped his finger in the warm pool and covered the name in the owner’s blood.
He had to admit, compared to the weightless drifting he had been doing for the last two years, Snow was almost excited at the prospect of the list. He was good at this. If Snow wanted to be kind, he could believe it was why Gabe wanted this. Gabe saw it early. The first killing was easy for them, perfect and satisfying. Gabe knew Snow lived for the hunt. It didn’t matter if it had fur or flesh; it didn’t matter if it set him apart from the rest of humanity.
Gabriel saw the power in being able to do something that others didn’t have the stomach for.
But no, Gabe didn’t care. Gabe didn’t believe anyone else in the world was real. Whether that capacity had been beaten, or starved, or ripped out of him, or if he was merely born that way, it didn’t matter. That’s why he could sell Snow into Hell and then retrieve him again, cultivating the killer when it was convenient.
Gabe didn’t care that this felt right for his brother, but that didn’t mean that it didn’t. Snow had made him a promise, and despite everything, there was still honor, even in Hell.
Snow looked around the apartment. It was time. He’d take care of the driver, then gather what he needed for the job and burn the rest along with the bodies.
He assessed his Glock, reached into his pocket and reloaded, then, with muscle memory, concealed the gun so it could be easily retrieved.
Before he could forget, the assassin picked up a pen thrown from the pocket of the dead man, and wrote one word on the list that was now spattered with the lawyer’s blood.
The truth—killing was Raguel Snow’s occupation, his talent.
And the truth would set him free.
“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”
— William Shakespeare (King Henry VI, Part 2)