Chapter 2: Slave to Stray

In the backseat of the Cadillac, blood oozed out of Keitaro’s fat lip. Huffing after the fight only gathered a pool of blood and saliva in his mouth. He hocked it and spat it onto the floorboard. He tipped his head back, rolling his eyes to the driver.

“Cowards,” Keitaro said in a sigh of his reserved energy.

“You’re the dumbass that brought a knife to a gunfight,” the gunman said from Keitaro’s right.

“You squeeze that trigger for comfort. Like a child squeezes a teddy bear,” Keitaro said.

“Run your fucking mouth some more,” the gunman said.

“Aye, Gunner! No more,” the suited guy said with a glance in the rearview mirror.

The gunman lowered his fist.

“Cobra’s already gonna be pissed we messed up the guy’s eye.” The suited guy dabbed at his swollen lip, wiping blood on his pants. He reached into the console for something that he handed to the passenger. They exchanged words in Spanish, none of which Keitaro understood except one being his name.

“English. English, for fuck’s sake. This is America, we speak English,” Gunner said.

“It’s him. Kim Keitaro,” the buff guy said from the passenger seat.

Keitaro doubled over in pain as if his organs had been rearranged by the beating. He unclipped his suspenders and wrapped the strap around his bleeding bicep. He struggled through cringing agony of the bullet wound to tighten the strap as a tourniquet. Tightening the strap tightened the inflamed flesh beneath the skin which created a new excruciating throb. Keitaro internalized the pain in a moan that sounded like a guttural growl.

“Fuck.” Gunner pressed his gun under Keitaro’s chin and lifted Keitaro’s head to get his attention. “This better not have been through an artery,” Gunner said, pointing to his thigh. “Or else…” He pressed the barrel to Keitaro’s forehead. “I’m taking you with me.”

Keitaro stared down the pistol with cold determination. He memorized Gunner’s face—squinty blue eyes, flat nose, paper thin lips— with every intention of making it writhe with regret.

A droplet of blood splattered to the leather seat between Gunner and Keitaro. Another fell, and Gunner noticed the wound on his bicep. A slash where Keitaro had gotten him during the alley scuffle. Gunner dabbed his fingers against it and winced.

“You’re gonna pay for that,” he said.

Keitaro remained unconvinced. Pissed off that his threats had no effect, Gunner lowered his finger to the trigger and shouted “Bang!” as he thrust the gun into Keitaro’s forehead. But even then Keitaro didn’t flinch and the fear subtly reverted back to Gunner.

“Get ready to move him,” the suited guy said.

The Cadillac steered into the parking lot of an off-white building with a giant analog clock that had struck the thirteenth hour. The architecture resembled a church without the cross, and the clock hung where the bell tower should be. A line of college-aged partiers waited to get past the doorman.

The suited guy steered down a hill to the back of the building and parked.

“Victor, here,”the buff guy said while tossing Keitaro’s wallet to the driver.

Victor caught the wallet in his lap before getting out. He leaned back in to grab Keitaro’s knife from the cup holder.

“Out.” Gunner kicked Keitaro out into the buff guy’s arms.

The buff guy grabbed Keitaro’s collar, dragging him by it like a dog’s scruff.

Keitaro stumbled nearly incoherent toward the nightclub’s back entrance and up five steps to a metal door. Victor unlocked and opened the door, holding it so the buff guy could shove Keitaro through.

Keitaro could no longer open his left eye. With his right eye, he strained to see maroon carpeting and dim, circular lighting on the ceiling of what appeared to be a private hallway. One door to the right, another door, another door. Three closed doors before they turned left at the end of the hall. Just past another closed door up ahead what sounded like the club partied on. Gunner shoved Keitaro to the right and down five stairs into a private den.

Fireplace ablaze.

Glowing glass case to the left.

One man on the couch straight ahead.

The buff Mexican forced Keitaro to kneel in front of the coffee table, presenting him to whom Keitaro assumed to be Cobra. In sunglasses and smoke from the joint leaving his mouth, the Mexican boss across the table lifted his head to acknowledge the offering of his henchmen.

A sense of doom shrouded Keitaro. He had just met his fatality in the flesh. The bringer of the end. A conqueror whose reputation was built on the bodies of his adversaries. Whose strength when summoned could annihilate armies. A king of power never to be rivaled.

Cobra was as much blood and bone as anyone in the room, but the god complex of his ego had substantial roots. Somewhere inside him, an inhuman darkness lay dormant. A soulless, savage darkness that threatened Keitaro not to be awakened.

“Kim Keitaro.” Victor handed over Keitaro’s wallet. “The medium you wanted.”

“What happened?” Cobra said in Spanish after getting a good look at Victor’s blood-stained suit.

Victor brushed his fat lip. He replied in Spanish, “He can fight. You sure you want to do this?”

“Are you afraid? Huh, Victor?” Cobra taunted.

Victor stepped off, turning his head with an insulted pout. “Cuidado con este, Cobrador.” Victor dropped Keitaro’s blood-stained knife to the table on his way to the mini bar.

Cobrador cocked his head and sneered behind Victor’s back. “Keitaro, you speak English?” Cobrador dragged the tip of Keitaro’s knife against the wooden coffee table and twisted the handle so it spun in circles.

“Ran his mouth the whole way here,” Gunner said as he limped around the couch.

Cobrador glanced at Gunner’s leg. “You shot him?”

“Fucker pricked me. It was a reaction.” Gunner dropped into a wooden chair behind a desk in a corner to the right of the fireplace. He used his mouth to rip the cork out of a bottle of alcohol and poured the liquor onto his thigh wound. He threw his head back as seething laughter fizzed from his pain.

“Thiago, you too?”

The buff Mexican turned his head so Cobrador could see the bruises and blood on his face.

“I told you, Cobra.” Victor unbuttoned the cuff of his silk dress shirt to tend to his knife wound. “He can fight.”

To Keitaro, that sounded like a warning.

A scoff of pride huffed out of Cobra’s half-smile as he lowered his eyes to Keitaro. “He’s about to pass out on my fucking floor.”

Keitaro fell to his right hand for support. Now level with the coffee table, he saw options. A baggie of cocaine lay next to a Glock. A black bottle of liquor emptied into a whiskey glass. Get rid of the gun. Break the bottle. Throw the glass. Retrieve his knife.

“Thiago, cut his shirt,”Cobrador said in Spanish.He stood with Keitaro’s knife, marveled at it, and walked it to the glass case.

Thiago ripped off Keitaro’s makeshift tourniquet.

“AHHHH!”

Reflexing to the pain, Keitaro punched Thiago in the face. Thiago dropped to his knee then pounced back at Keitaro, throwing a punch. Keitaro’s head whipped to the side and something white and bloody flew to the floor with a tick-tick.

“Puta. Hold still.” Thiago ripped open the buttons on Keitaro’s dress shirt. He yanked the shirt down Keitaro’s arms then out of the waistband and threw the shirt across the room.

Keitaro squeezed the bullet wound. Blood seeped through his fingers and ran down his arm, puddling on the dark throw rug he knelt on. “Tell me what you want.”

Cobra locked the case with Keitaro’s knife inside on display. “Heard you were the guy to talk to about ghosts.” He returned to the loveseat and reclined with one arm stretched back over the cushion.

“Metaphorically?” Keitaro said, shaking from the blood loss.

Cobra laughed which made Thiago and Gunner laugh.

Thiago smacked Keitaro upside the back of the head.

“Literally.” Cobra picked up his pistol. “Let me show you.”

One, two, three gunshots.

Keitaro ducked, Thiago fell back, Gunner jumped at the desk, and something heavy thudded to the floor behind Keitaro. And for a minute while the shots rang out in the studio-apartment-sized den, everyone except Cobra stood in shock at the shooting. Their horror-struck faces gaped at an atrocity behind the couch that Keitaro couldn’t see.

Cobra laid his pistol on the wood table. “Wait for it.” He relaxed back into the couch and inhaled another puff of marijuana.

Keitaro thought of escaping again. Get rid of the gun. Break the bottle. Throw the…glass…

Legs appeared to Keitaro’s right, stumbling backward from the grizzly crime behind the couch. Victor combed his hand back through his slicked hair in distressed shock. He turned to Cobra and sobbed, ¿Por qué?”

Cobra’s smile delighted in Keitaro. “You see him.”

Keitaro turned from Victor to Cobra. “You killed him.”

Cobra leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees. “Now tell me why the fuck this is happening. When I kill a man, he’s supposed to stay dead. Not try to kill me from the grave.”

“What do you want me to do about it?” Keitaro said.

¿Cobra, por qué yo?” Victor pleaded with desperation.

“Because you were afraid of him,”Cobra said in Spanish with a nod toward Keitaro.

“You were getting soft, Victor,” Thiago said to the air as if Victor’s ghost were floating.

“Slowing us down with his conscience,” Gunner said.

Cobra poured his glass two fingers full of liquor. “I want you to catch him.” He spoke to Keitaro, but pointed to Victor.

“Impossible,” Keitaro whispered.

“I’m dead.” Victor’s devastation dripped in his voice. He stared at his body incredulously.

Cobra downed his drink and stood. “Catch him and everyone like him.” He walked around the couch to the fireplace. “Build me an army of all my dead adversaries.”

“It’s…not…possible.” Blood strung from Keitaro’s mouth. The pain was taking over. The wooziness slurring colors and shapes. “Can’t catch them.”

“Not without help.” Cobrador raised a poker with a bright orange stamp on the end. He blew it and steam rose off the scalding brand. “Not without the Devil.”

“No,” Keitaro said, attempting to stand.

“Gunner.”

By Cobra’s order, Gunner laid his money down and joined the group on the rug.

Thiago shoved Keitaro back down to his knees.

Gunner pressed his pistol to Keitaro’s temple. “Stay down.”

Keitaro lunged forward for the table. He thrust the glass off the edge, grabbed the bottle and chucked it back at Gunner. The bottle struck Gunner in the nose with a nasty knock of glass against bone.

“Aw fuck!” Gunner covered his face with both hands as blood pooled in his palms.

Keitaro turned to escape. Thiago’s fist crushed into Keitaro’s swollen eye. Keitaro’s head whipped to the side, and he fell to the floor. When he looked up, he saw Victor’s body on its back in a puddle of blood.

Thiago got Keitaro up to his knees.

Gunner pinched his nose and tipped his head back. “Bastard.”

Cobra approached Keitaro with the poker. “Fuck are you so afraid of?”

“I don’t dabble with magic,” Keitaro said. He growled as a means to exert all his last strength to escape, but Thiago held him down.
A gun cocked, the barrel pointed at Keitaro’s forehead, Gunner’s finger on the trigger. “You’re not the only one capable of owning ghosts, so knock off your shit!”

“Hold him still,” Cobra said.

“No! NO!”

“Fuck, man! This is wrong! Cobra, you know it’s wrong!” Victor said.

Keitaro’s shallow, quick breaths matched the race of his heartbeat.

“Dominus Mortis, Master of Death, I invoke your power of necromancy upon Kim Keitaro,” Cobra said.

Keitaro held his breath.

Cobra shoved the scalding orange brand against the meat of Keitaro’s right shoulder blade. The golden tan of Keitaro’s skin instantly melted into a puss-colored yellow.

“aaaaaAAAAHHHHH!”

Keitaro convulsed in rapid, short spasms as blinding pain forced him to fight for freedom.

Cobra counted to six before retracting the brand.

Thiago and Gunner released Keitaro.

Keitaro fell face first to the floor.

“What’s the symbol? Looks like a skeleton,” Gunner said.

“Skeleton’s a whole body, dumbass,” Thiago said.

“It’s a skull,” Cobra said.

A skull in a circle broken at the top by an inverted Cross.

“One.” Cobra eyed the roll of bud he puffed on. “Two.”

“Soul commander. Necromancer,” Dominus called to Keitaro’s soul.

In his mind’s eye, Keitaro awoke standing in a castle dungeon. He passed an open cell that housed a version of himself. The necromancer version of Keitaro twisted his hand and a phantom chain manifested, locking around his wrist and dropping to the floor. He released the chain and it vanished into thin air. Twisting his wrist again, he summoned another chain.

Lured down the dungeon hall to another open cell, Keitaro saw a different version of himself. This version had the necromancer chain wrapped around his hand, and at the bottom dangled a silver, mechanical spider-looking collar. This version of Keitaro cast the chain out and the mechanical spider locked around the neck of a resistant soul. The version of Keitaro ordered the soul he’d captured to kneel. The soul stopped tugging on the chain for freedom and obediently dropped to his knees.

One cell further down the hall, Keitaro saw a third version of himself surrounded by souls, casting chain after chain until he had enslaved them all.

The last cell housed a version of Keitaro releasing a soul from the collar. Find the lock at the back of the neck. Unlatch it like a wrist watch. The collar fell off the soul’s neck, releasing him. When the soul turned, Keitaro recognized him as Victor.

“Three.” Cobra exhaled smoke that masked his face. “Four, five.”

Red smoke furled into the end of the dungeon hall.

Keitaro turned to three figures. Two on their hands and knees, faces contorted in suffering, hands outstretched for aid, chains around both their necks connecting them to a bald, bloodied demon on a stone throne. A symbol was carved into the throne above his head. A loose chain swung from his right hand like a lasso. A nefarious smirk crept across his face.

The bloodied demon tossed the chain out to Keitaro. The collar clasped around Keitaro’s neck and brought him to his knees. Keitaro resisted with a hand against the cobblestone floor, the other hand tugging at the chain to free himself from Dominus.

“Necromancer. A curse forever,” Dominus growled.

“Six,” Cobra said.

Keitaro woke in a soft gasp of terror. No visible chain around his neck. Just a metaphorical one around his soul.

The den went still and silent.

“Shit, did we kill him?” Thiago said.

Gunner glanced at Cobra, who expressed equal curiosity.

“Aye, you got it?” Cobra kicked Keitaro’s foot.

Keitaro slowly rose all the way to his feet.

Gunner and Thiago took a step back.

Keitaro looked down at his right hand as it dangled at his side. He shook it as if to straighten a watch, and the necromancer chain dropped down. The chain locked around his wrist, and at the end of it materialized the mechanical silver collar.

“He’s got it. It’s in his right hand,” Cobra said.

“What is that?” Victor took a step away.

“Time to go to work, necromancer,” Cobra said.

“I don’t dabble with magic,” Keitaro said.

“Little late for that,” Gunner said with a cackle.

Keitaro wrapped the chain around his hand. In a grunting effort, expending all his remaining energy, he threw the chain back over his shoulder and cast it out toward Victor. The collar clamped around Victor’s neck. The spider legs closed at the back, and the switch latched.

Trapped.

Victor grabbed at the chain to free himself. “Get it off.”

Keitaro yanked Victor to himself.

Victor’s spirit stumbled forward. The men went face-to-face.

Keitaro said, “Cover me,” and Victor’s eyes glossed over with obedience. He stepped out from behind Keitaro and faced Cobra, Thiago, and Gunner.

“No! You little shit!” Cobra hurried to his pistol.

“What is it?” Gunner raised his gun instinctively.

Victor twisted the gun away from Gunner. A shot fired into the wall.

Thiago aimed at the air around him. “He sicked Victor on us!”

Keitaro bolted for the door.

“He’s getting out!” Gunner said. He took one step toward Keitaro and got thrown back into the wall by Victor.

Keitaro retraced his steps to the back door of the club. Up five steps. Left into the hall then right then right again. He shoved his shoulder into the metal door. He stumbled down the five stairs and rounded the side of the building.

“Victor!”

Keitaro yanked the chain, summoning Victor’s ghost at his side. Together they ran away from the club toward the Novella Bridge underpass.

A bang behind them could have been a gunshot or the metal door banging open. Keitaro couldn’t tell and didn’t look back to find out. Footsteps throttled behind him.

“Don’t stop,” Victor said.

“I can’t keep…”

Keitaro crumbled.

“He’s down! Get him!” one of the thugs said.

Sirens and flashing red lights halted Cobra, Thiago, and Gunner. A black Charger peeled to a stop between Cobra and Keitaro.

“Get in,” the driver said through the window to Keitaro.

“Danillo?” Victor said.

The driver hopped out, unholstered a Glock, and aimed one-handed at the thugs over the hood of the car. “Let it be tonight, boys.”

Victor helped Keitaro into the barred backseat of the all-black beast.

“He’s my property,” Cobra said. “Lo marque.”

“He’s evidence, and he’s now under witness protection. So come on. Let it be tonight,” the cop said.

Cobra tipped his head back. He raised a finger gun, firing several shots at the cop then at Keitaro in the backseat.

Thiago and Gunner retreated inside the club.

The cop dropped into the driver’s seat, slamming the door. He turned to look back at Keitaro. “Hang tight.”

“Hospital,” Keitaro said.

“Yeah, yeah. I’m on it.”

The cop threw the car into drive.

“This is Detective Danillo, Cobra’s most dedicated opposition,” Victor said from the passenger’s seat. “Rest, Keitaro. You’re in good hands.”

Keitaro couldn’t resist the darkness.

Copyright © 2022 Danny Raye. All Rights Reserved.

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