3635 words (14 minute read)

Four


Hack Glanton had a shoulder holster custom made for his Smith and Wesson Model 629 by his guy in Arizona. The snub nose .44 magnum was too awkward and too bulky to wear on his belt. At just over two and a half pounds, it would be too much weight to look inconspicuous hidden in the inner pocket of his suit jacket. Despite these shortcomings, It was Hack’s go-to for self-defense in an urban environment. Semi-automatics had a huge advantage as far as capacity, but revolvers always felt natural to him. He’d figured it was in his blood. And if you can’t get the job done in six, there’s a good chance you’re fucked anyway.

Hack, who at birth was named Hakizimana Antar, seated the .44 inside of the holster and adjusted his suit. He got one last look at the man in the mirror: middle-aged but miraculously not quite showing it, tall, beard clean and trimmed, hair stylishly cropped short on the sides. Satisfied, he headed out the door of his home in Toluca Lake. It was slightly colder than usual for a May evening. From here it was about 18 minutes to the Cassilda in Tavish.

Years ago, an establishment like the Cassilda would’ve been extremely out of place in a city like Tavish. It certainly was when Hack had opened it. Soccer moms weren’t too keen on having their posh coffee shops and pristine dog park right down the street from a titty bar. Hack remembered the formal complaints. They wanted that shit kept further south with the poor. Part of him knew he’d receive pushback from the community when he set up shop, and that part of him welcomed it. He hadn’t come from money, so his first action, when he’d finally made some, was to shove it in the faces of those who had.

These days, however, things had changed in Tavish.

The .44 under Hack’s jacket was a new practice for just a drive to the office. You really didn’t want to get caught with a concealed weapon in Southern California. Hack usually only carried when the Gift Shop was open, or on the rare occasion that he would make a house call. Ever since those freaks shot up 4th Street a couple of years ago, Hack decided to stick to the side of caution.

The night sky was overcast with a pinkish glow, but the full moon was visible through the haze. Hack walked down the short brick pathway to the Range Rover, pausing briefly at the driver’s door as he removed his cell phone from his pocket. In LA it behooves one, even for relatively short distances traveled thousands of times, to check traffic just in case. Satisfied that the easiest and most direct route was clear, Hack got into the car, started it and pulled out of the short driveway onto Toluca Lake Ave.

It was 9:00 on a Tuesday night and there was little to no activity as Hack cruised up Mariota to West Riverside Drive. For such a short drive Hack saw no point in pulling up his extensive music library, so he left the radio tuned to Los Angeles’ classic rock station, currently running that annoying mattress advertisement. Lindsay despised that one.

He was worried about Lindsay down in La Jolla by herself. It had been about a month since he’d last checked on her and brought her that coffee machine he’d originally gotten for the back of the club, but ended up going unused. Living in such isolation after what she had been through last year couldn’t bode well for her mental wellbeing, but she was a tough one. He hired her at his other club in Vegas, the one that went under, and they got on well enough to stay in touch. He originally tried to coax her into coming to work for him in LA, but she was in love.

Was.

He knew she was careful. She only went out for supplies after dark and down to the water when it was a quiet day. She looked different enough now. He remained concerned nonetheless and decided to reach out to her in the morning. Maybe go down there for the weekend. They’d talked about giving that paddleboarding thing a shot. Finally, put his beach house to proper use for once. Hack felt a little more at ease with a plan in place as he made the turn onto West Riverside, a short distance to travel before reaching the East Ventura Freeway.

Hack was approaching the on-ramp to 134 when heard the siren coming in fast behind him, causing him to tense up instinctively. He eased over to the side, and thankfully it shot past, lights strobing and painting the area in brief flashes of red and blue. As he reached the turn lane to the freeway entrance, he saw where it had been going. Over on the other side of the ramp, the cop had joined two other cars at the gas station on the opposite side of the road. There was a particularly long line of traffic in the other lane, moving slowly so the drivers could get a look at the commotion. Hack sat yielding in the turn lane and got an opportunity to see for himself.

There were five cops in a half circle, guns and flashlights drawn on a man, standing very still and facing away from them.

"Ah shit, here we go," Hack mumbled to himself, depressing the button to roll the window down and silencing the radio, the sounds of the night pouring into the vehicle. It was difficult to hear over the oncoming traffic and the click click click of his turn signal, but he could catch the sounds of the officers barking orders in brief waves. He’d successfully avoided trouble with the law his whole life, despite their certainly justified suspicions, and once again considered himself lucky to just be a spectator in this show.

The cops shouted a few more times at the man, standing as motionless as a statue. After a pause, one of the cops half-turned his head and appeared to say something to one of the others before holstering his weapon and removing what must have been an air taser. Taser moved directly in line with Statue’s back as the other cops fanned out further, ready for anything.

Taser shouted at the man again, Hack figured that due to his change of weaponry, it was something along the lines of "Pardon me kind sir, but would you be so kind as to comply with our requests before I fucking Tase you?"

Statue appeared to take this into consideration. Slowly, very slowly, he raised his hands to the top of his head. Taser shouted something else, and the man was still for a few moments before slowly setting himself on both knees, then crossing his ankles. Once this was done, Taser seemed to shout to another officer, who holstered his weapon and approached Statue, removing his handcuffs. The others remained at the ready, prepared to give Statue acute lead poisoning.

"Ready for their fucking paid vacation and mandatory therapy," Hack muttered.

Just as Handcuffs reached Statue, all hell broke loose.

Statue shot to his feet, spun fast, and slammed his fist hard into Handcuffs’ jaw, twisting the cop’s head to a sickening angle. Statue was so fast, he caught Handcuffs by the collar of his vest, hauled him up before he fell, and delivered two more heavy looking jabs to his face before letting him go and following his limp body to the ground.

"Jesus fuck" Hack gasped, hunkering down in his seat, cheek against the door panel and watching out the window. peeking over the side mirror.

A loud rush of shouting was silenced by a sharp CRACK piercing the air. Taser had fired before anyone else had a chance and the twin barbs had found their mark. Statue had been attacking the fallen cop but went stiff as a board before pitching to the side. Taser and one of the other cops advanced on him as electricity coursed through his body. Another cop dragged Handcuffs away towards the cruisers to tend to him.

Taser must have cut the electric charge, as Statue had stopped his convulsions and remained prone on the ground. As the other officers advanced to get him under control, Hack could see him better in the beams of the flashlight. Statue had some erratic tattoo work all over his head.

Oncoming traffic had stopped and Hack decided it was time to leave. Hack made the turn onto the ramp, slowly, and glanced out the passenger window for one last look. Two cops were hauling the Statue up.

Perhaps completely by chance, but Statue looked right at Hack. It was quick, but Hack felt like they’d locked eyes. The tattooing was also on his face. His eyes seemed to be dark pits. It looked like he was grinning.

Widely.

Hack felt a deep chill like his spine had turned to ice, as he pulled onto the 134 headed the fuck away from there.

Hack made it to the 2 and headed north into Tavish, exiting onto 4th Street, turning right. Even being far away from the scene he’d just witnessed his skin was still crawling. The tattoos. That smile. Those eyes. He almost certainly had to be on the Grey Shit. But that was only the beginning of Hack’s suspicions.

Hack had seen the news reports and the paranoia on his Facebook feed over the last few years. CNN even had an hour-long documentary on them once. Those weird fucks up in the mountains. Abaddon Temple had let a camera crew into their dwelling only once after the panic had started, trying to put a happy face on all the rumors. Hack had to admit, despite the bizarre scene he’d started to feel a little at ease about them. He’d chalked them up as some Norse mythology-inspired Scientology knockoff. But the creep factor was still running wild.

Mostly kids in their early twenties, some teenagers right out of high school. None were on camera but there were rumors about some even younger than that among the ranks. The Temple inexplicably gained a shockingly high social media following overnight. It was used as a recruiting method, bringing in strays mostly from the Southwest, but there were two college kids who came all the way from Bangor, Maine.

There were cars ditched all along the sides of Angeles Crest Highway. People just abandoned everything they had there at the end of their pilgrimage. It appeared to just be a campground at first, but the inhabitants eventually built a no-shit village up there. The guy the reporters interviewed was well dressed, clearly the friendly face of the group, always offering assurances and sheepishly laughing off the rumors as he guided them past the members of the community washing clothes and preparing food.

Whenever pressed about the belief system, how they had managed to set this place up on federal land, or getting down to brass tacks, just what the hell was the purpose of Abaddon Temple, the spokesman danced away from the subject with some seriously graceful verbal ballet. The only time the man had dropped the pleasant host schtick was when the subject of a supposed leader, a man named Casey Beckwith, had come up. It was blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, but a stern look passed over the guide’s face like a shadow before he brightened and explained that the Temple isn’t run by one man, but a committee of whatever and what-have-you.

He remembered the faces of the followers. The new joins were easy to pick out. They had markings painted on their bodies and faces, various handmade adornments and jewelry, a dreamy look in their eyes. They reminded Hack of the interviews with the Manson girls.

But the core of the group, they stayed far away from the camera. They glared from dark little huts and deep among the trees. They were never seen speaking. They were clearly not to be approached, but they would smile slightly at the camera, seemingly staring daggers right through it. Their markings were tattooed on their bodies.

Similar tattoos to what Hack saw on that freak this night.

In the years since that report, the group had closed themselves off from the rest of the world, still accepting new members but without advertising themselves to the outsiders. After a few years of excellent PR, they reduced their communication to a Twitter account that seemed only to be used to deny any connection to recent tragedies. Of which there had been plenty in Los Angeles, specifically near Tavish.

Then there was the Grey Shit.

The designer drug Gris hit the streets not long before the Temple became known. The epidemic was bad enough that Hack had a hard time keeping it out of his club. More than once over the last few years he had his guys rough up some piece of shit for trying to push it to the girls. It was a strange and powerful opioid that caused several overdose fatalities due to its extremely high potency. The problem was, potency of what? The ingredients seemed to change whenever a seized batch had been tested. The cops and the feds were baffled. They even sent it off to some biotechnology company working with state crime labs to identify unknown street drugs, but nobody had been able to figure out what was in it. Sometimes it was mixed with coke, but most people would shoot it. It made you highly aggressive and delusional if it didn’t kill you first.

And a few people thought to have run off to join the Temple but had been found dead, tested positive for it. You didn’t have to be Columbo to make connections.

Hack pulled onto Stichman off of 4th Street, and into the parking lot of Cassilda, his pride and joy. It looked like a cathedral of purple neon lights, beckoning frat kids, bachelor parties, open-minded couples, and poor lonely bastards that worked long hours or were too dysfunctional to accommodate real affection in their lives to come pray at the altar of unattainable pussy. It used to play host to the Yidhra, a biker gang from up north Hack regularly did business with. Wanting to maintain a non-threatening atmosphere, they agreed to stay out of the club if Hack would provide the entertainment at their gatherings.

Tonight, in a lonely city, out there in the cold with sinister forces seeming to lurk in every shadow, in a world where the true evil in the souls of men and women seemed to reign and even be treated as virtue, Cassilda felt like an oasis of beautiful dreams in a great desert of pain. Selling fantasy would always be a sure thing.

Hack pulled the Range Rover to the front where the new kid, What’s-His-Fuck was shadowing Big Dave at the door. Upon spotting the boss, the kid hustled to the driver’s side as Hack got out.

"G-Good Evening Mr. Glanton", What’s-His-Fuck sputtered out. He was gonna have to work on that.

Hack tossed the keys to the kid. "One scratch and you’ll be in the shitter wiping down the loads."

"Yes sir!" What’s-His-Fuck barked loudly. Better.

As the kid drove the Range Rover around the side, Big Dave got up from his stool and stood straight as Hack approached.

"Boss." came Big Dave’s low baritone.

"How we doin’ tonight Dave?"

"Fine. Packed. Look, boss, something happened earlier."

"I just fucking got here Dave."

"I know, but..."

"Is this Gift Shop Shit? Somebody does not have an appointment?"

"No, but..."

"Yidhra?"

"No boss."

"Turf shit?"

"No boss"

"Is this sales shit?"

"No boss"

"So this is club shit?"

"Yes boss"

"Yes, this is what?"

"Yes, this is club shit, boss."

Hack nodded and gazed out over the parking lot. After a deep sigh, he looked back at Big Dave.

"Big Dave?"

"Yes, boss."

"Why in the fuck are you bothering me about club shit?"

"Boss, its..."

"Did Larry quit?"

"No, boss"

"So Larry’s here? Not out sick?"

"Larry’s here, boss."

"Why aren’t you bothering Larry about club shit? That’s what I fucking pay Larry for, Big Dave."

"I know boss. Larry’s waiting for you in your office."

"Why, pray tell, is Larry waiting for me, Big Dave?"

"It’s about Lilly, boss."

Lilly. Fuck. She’d been clean for awhile.

"She using?"

"No boss. Some guys roughed her up."

"Inside?"

"No boss."

"And where the fuck were you?"

"She wasn’t here. They got her at home."

What the fuck. Some kind of message? Hack stared back at the parking lot, rubbing his chin.

"Alright." Hack began to walk inside, but paused at the door, turning back to Big Dave.

"Big Dave?"

"Yes, boss?"

"Sorry, man. Been a long fucking night already."

"It’s good, boss."

"Alright."

Hack passed through the entrance under the blacklights. The air was heavy with cheap cologne and body spray, mixed with the faint tinge of spilled beer. Out of the speakers was some sort of dark, slow, EDM hit. The main floor was packed shoulder to shoulder. It was a large circular room with two stairways leading to the 2nd floor which wrapped around the top, providing an aerial view of the two large stages down below, the main bar bisecting them, and four small circular stages surrounding the outskirts, all occupied. There were four VIP rooms up top around the perimeter like little private opera boxes. On the front stage, Eve had coiled herself at the top of the pole, hanging upside down with her legs, hands cupping her breasts, before slowly, very slowly, sliding down to the floor. Once there, one hand trailed down her flat stomach, fingertips disappearing briefly between her thighs. It was sweet agony to watch and the crowd made their approval known.

The second floor was where his office was located. He walked with purpose and the densely-packed crowd seemed to understand he was not to be trifled with. They parted like the Red Sea as he passed and Hack glided up the long flight of stairs in a matter of seconds. He passed the small upstairs bar and two of the VIP boxes, one vacant and the other containing a college kid being given the ride of his life by Misty. At the back was the door to his office. Larry was waiting outside, opened the door for him as he approached, followed him inside and shut it behind him.

Lilly was seated in his chair, holding an ice pack wrapped in a towel to her face. There was a large amount of dried blood running down her chin and neck, staining her sweater. She was sobbing lightly, like someone who had cried far too much and had almost nothing left. Tanya, one of the bartenders, was seated next to her rubbing her shoulders and whispering to her.

A deep, dark rage was erupting in Hack’s chest and radiating up behind his eyes. Everyone in the room could feel it.

Hack turned to Larry.

"What do we know?"

"She didn’t get a good look. She was on her way here. They were waiting outside her door. Hit her before she knew what happened."

"Cops involved?"

"No. Didn’t call nobody. Came straight here. One of her eyes is shut, so it took awhile."

"Her building. It got cameras?"

"Entrance and the parking lot."

"Send somebody. Right now."

With that, Larry exited.

Hack turned towards the two women behind his desk. Tanya met his eyes. She’d done her own share of crying.

"It’s ok. Why don’t you go get her some water? I’ll sit with her."

Tanya nodded and left without saying a word.

Lilly looked up at Hack with her good eye, tears beginning to run again. He came around the desk and knelt at her side. He took her free hand in both of his. She began to sob again.

He held her for a long time.

"They told me..." Lilly stopped, sobbing again.

Hack continued to hold her.

Lilly tried again, "They told me...to sa...sa...say..."

It was clear that speaking hurt too much.

"It’s ok, honey."

Hack grabbed a pen off the desk, found a notepad in one of drawers and set both in front of her.

"Go ahead and write it. Take your time. When you’re done, we’ll let you go lay down for awhile. We’ll have a doctor come here to see you, you don’t gotta wait in a hospital."

Lilly started to cry again, but choked it back as best she could, determined to finish the task. She was writing with her non-dominant hand, so it came out slow and messy.

When she was done, she set the pen down and gripped Hack’s arm. The one eye looked up at him in terror and confusion. Hack patted her hand and rose to his feet, collecting the paper from his desk and reading what was written there.

"TELL DARREN BARLOW WE MISS HIM"

Next Chapter: Five