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The Luminarium

(working title)


Chapter 1

“Hey, hey! Bada bing!”

Ricky tipped his beer, which was already swiftly approaching room temperature, and gave a half-hearted smirk at the stumbling man passing by and making finger-guns in his direction. Ricky had never liked that name. He wasn't even entirely happy that his street moniker had become “Ricky Bing.” It was convenient for him in his current line of criminal work that nobody could remember his real name, Richard Mancuso, since “Bing” was so unforgettable, but he couldn't help thinking that it was just plain racist. Ricky was a Bronx native of Italian descent, sure, but having moved to Texas at the age of 11 when his mother was skipping bail, he felt he had adapted fairly quickly. Unfortunately, it wasn't quick enough for his name, face and accent to get him an immediate and regrettable nickname.

He glanced back after the old school “buddy” who was now on the other side of the bar, clumsily chatting up a half-conscious hooker, probably having already forgotten his “Bing” sighting. Ricky was surprised at how many people remembered him from school, since he had dropped out not two years after arriving in the small town outside of Houston. It seemed, however, that half of his middle school class had either ended up in his job market, or in the military. “Buncha redneck, knockaround motherfuckers,” he muttered under his breath.

“What's that?” his pool partner asked, chalking his cue with a blue fragment.

“Oh... just some asshole I barely knew back in school,” Ricky answered quickly, though he winced as soon as he'd uttered it. Without hesitation the partner's eyes flashed and thinned as he looked around the dim bar. “It's nothing to worry about,” Ricky assured, “He sees me every now and then, remembers my fuckin' nickname, then sees me again a few weeks later sayin' he ain't seen me in years.”

Ricky had made quick work of incorporating phrases like “ain't” and “fixin' to” as soon as he'd moved here. He suddenly found it odd how much the encounter was making him think about his past. The partner seemed only mildly reassured, and kept subtly glancing about the room as he moved aside for Ricky's shot. “Ward” was the only name the stranger had given Ricky, and the word “Cleaver” kept coming to mind. As nervous as Ward made Ricky, money was money, and Ward had shown an eagerness to spend some, which was good enough for him. The stranger made him feel none too comfortable, but Ricky was accustomed to that. He'd had a rather easy time moving up in ranks over the years. Having started by dealing stolen prescription pills and pot, most of the locals were immediately nervous of a Bronx-born drug dealer. Compliance had made for success and recognition within the cartels and by the time Ricky was 20, he was gun-running for the big boys. Still, there was something different about Ward that gave Ricky a deeper, more intimate flash of fear every time the man looked him in the eyes. It seemed almost as if the mysterious buyer had the eyes of a cat, more reflective than normal. Even in the familiar surroundings of a petty criminal's favorite bar, Ricky couldn't stop watching the sinewy man nervously. He was dressed in a fairly unnoticeable way: black jeans, black motorcycle boots, plain black t-shirt, shoulder-length dark brown hair in a ponytail and a trim, though not recently shaven, beard. Ward could've been traded out for about a quarter of the patrons in the room, except for those piercing eyes.

Failing a planned shot, Ward gritted his teeth and shot his cold eyes at Ricky, “When are these people of yours gonna fuckin' show UP?”

Ricky almost stumbled back, but kept his composure, particularly in his voice, “Don't worry, don't worry. I told you we were early. Look, I'll go check outside & give 'em a call, 'kay?”

Ward didn't answer but headed to the bar for a fresh whiskey. Ricky tried not to wince again as he grabbed his windbreaker from the stool in Ward's direction. Anxious for a few moments away from the nerve-wracking man, he hurried to the back exit into the alley.

“Another goddamn beautiful Houston night” Ricky muttered as he donned his jacket to guard from the rain. Hot, Texas summer rain fell in mediocre sheets, not hard enough to be exciting nor light enough or cool enough to be refreshing. Ricky bolted towards the street side of the building where he could take cover under the decaying canopy of the front door. “Gear head's Bar” had been here since he arrived in the lone star state, and had probably not been painted or repaired in any fashion since it's opening. Ricky prioritized a cigarette, then got on his phone as he casually glanced around for any sign of his compatriots. The streets were fairly empty, though not because of the late hour or the weather. The parking lot for the bar was around the opposite corner, filled mostly with Harleys and trucks, and few motorists found driving this road a worthwhile hazard in this neighborhood.

Ricky didn't get an answer, but he knew that Chupa didn't like talking on the phone as he was something of a conspiracy buff. The meet-up still wasn't scheduled for another 10 minutes or so, but as he sucked hard on his smoke, Ricky almost prayed they'd be early for a change.

That's when he noticed her.

Ricky Bing exhaled slowly and out of the side of his mouth to garner a better view without seeming too obvious. If he hadn't been staring in her direction while he made his call, he probably wouldn't have noticed the diminutive figure in the dark coat. She stood on the opposing sidewalk in the shadow of an awning cast by the street light. The dark windows of what used to be a mom and pop appliance store blended into her. Long, jet-black hair framed a shadowed face on a lithe build that had to be well less than five feet tall. Ricky found the sight completely incongruous with the surroundings, and somehow disconcerting. As his eyes adjusted, he found it even more odd that the girl appeared to be standing purposefully in the shadow of the awning, without the benefit of it's cover from the rain. She faced the side street on the other side of the front entrance to Gear head's, putting her at an approximate 45 degree angle from his position... then she turned.

At first, Ricky found himself almost panicking as she began to step forward, seemingly coming directly at him. His cigarette flipped out of his fingers and onto the wet cement at his feet, producing a subtle turn to her head and a glance of her eyes in his direction. He realized then that she was headed for the bar entrance to his right. She appeared to find him uninteresting, and turned her attention back to the door, which she glided through without hesitation. Ricky found that he was, in fact, literally slack-jawed. He closed his mouth, unable to calculate any explanation for the event, and rushed to the door out of desperate curiosity.

The smoke of the bar wafted strongly at him as he entered, searing his sinuses, even after 12 years of chain-smoking. Heads were already beginning to turn to witness the strange apparition that had entered before him, a few glancing at Ricky as well, then back to the girl. Ricky hugged the front wall, slowly making his way back to the pool room, but watching the girl intently. His eyes now confirmed what he'd briefly registered when she had come closest to him, right before entering. She was asian, just above 4 and a half feet tall, slender, and couldn't be more than 13 years old. More patrons began noticing the oddity in their midst, and the bar grew increasingly more quiet. The girl, appearing to have no concept at the nature of her surroundings, merely peered around, seemingly looking for someone in particular. Ricky had almost reached the pool room as the shock began to erode and the curiosity and interest began to return the volume to the bar. He then caught sight of Ward, who looked for all intents and purposes, as if he'd been frozen in mid-sip of his drink. He seemed to not even breathe as he glared intently at the girl, as if he were trying to decide if she were a threat. By now, Ricky's initial reaction of having a psychedelic experience had worn off, and he was beginning to find the situation somewhat amusing.

“What's up with that, y'think?” Ricky chuckled when he reached Ward's side.

Ward seemed to break his trance, shot a glance over to Ricky, then stared at his drink for a moment as if confused by it. He lowered his glass and raised his head as he watched the girl again, breathing deeply. Ricky thought for a fleeting moment that it looked like Ward was trying to smell the girl from across the room. He must have a thing for the way girl's smell, Ricky thought.

“Isn't that about the weirdest....”

“Shut up.” Ward barked. Ricky just looked at him with a befuddled grin, shrugged, then turned to watch the bizarre events unfold in the main bar.

The bar flies in the closest stools were all turned to face the girl, and the bartender had found it necessary to retreat to the back end of the bar, fiddling with bottles. A couple of meaner looking bikers had moseyed their way up to the girl and were starting to talk to her. She hadn't responded yet.

“Well maybe we can help ya, lil' darlin'” said a beer-gutted, barrel-chested grizzly man, “What's yer name, sweetie?” The man's beard was wet with spilt beer from his excitement at her initial appearance, and his eyes showed a lustful squint unbecoming of a good Samaritan.

“Reiko,” she said, calmly, continuing to scan the bar's back booths with her eyes. She seemed uninterested in the small crowd of leering men that were beginning to circle her. Even the rain dripping from her hair & coat didn't seem to divert her attention. Ricky noticed that she was even dressed strangely for a Japanese school-girl, spotting dark canvas pants and light hiking boots from under her navy raincoat.

“Ray-ko, eh?” the burly man slurred.

“Who ya lookin' fer, slanty?” came the voice of the man standing behind her, a squat, leathery man in a red “Skoal” hat and bushy, gray mustache. “There ain't no other nips in here.” A round of jittery chuckles from the like-minded scurried in the undertow of the chatter. The girl seemed to not even hear any of it, but froze in her scan at that moment, as she locked eyes with Ward. Ricky turned his gaze to his side, only to find that Ward had been taking slow and mindful back steps, continuing to sniff the air. Although reacting with subdued alarm at the girl's gaze, Ward still seemed unsure of her. Ricky still couldn't fathom what Ward was so nervous about. The girl couldn't possibly be a cop, and even if it were possible for someone who appeared so young to be a hitter, she wouldn't be stupid enough to come into this place alone. Ricky returned his eyes to the girl, still befuddled at her presence. The girl's reaction, however, was not unsure, as her weight shifted to head towards the pool room, her eyes never leaving Ward's location. She never got a chance to make her first step, though, as the large, grizzly man put up his arm to block her way.

For the first time since she had entered, she looked directly at the man, but only for a moment.

“Where the fuck you think yer goin'?” he growled in a far more threatening tone, though his grin never left his face. Although chatter continued, the bar grew much more quiet than before. A few more rough types slowly took to their feet, anxious for the coming attraction. Ricky hadn't noticed the shaven-headed teenager at the front door until the lock knocked solidly into place. Reiko reacted to this action only by glancing at the floor for a moment, then back at Ward. There was more deep-throated chuckling and less talking. Ricky felt a knot in his stomach. He knew what would happen next, and though he'd led a life of crime for as long as he could remember, he was still disgusted by the abuse of women. Perhaps his mother's consistent attempts to do best for him, at least in her eyes, had affected his conscience somehow. He considered this aspect of his personality a weakness in his social circle, but he knew there was nothing he could do now.

By this time, the girl was barely visible to Ricky, being almost completely surrounded by jeering drunks, grabbing their crotches, laughing, and mumbling things like “sushi pussy.” From his peripheral vision, Ricky could see Ward relaxing a little, then it happened..

By the time Ricky looked back towards the action, a body was flying straight at him. Ricky jumped back out of reflex as the Skoal-capped redneck crashed violently into the table and stools at Ricky's immediate left, snapping and splintering wood and bone. Ricky shot his eyes back to the bar to see something his mind simply couldn't comprehend. The burly man was on his knees cradling an arm with an extra elbow and covered in blood. Two other men lie next to him. It was a full second before Ricky's eyes could locate the girl, Reiko, who had been a navy blue blur the moment before. Another enormous man was cartwheeling backwards from the spot Reiko had just occupied. The girl stood stone still, appearing to not even breathe heavy as her coat flowed downward to catch up with her. Her expression was stoic, and almost pitying as she seemed to stare at the floor, simply listening to the others gather around her. Ricky felt sure he perceived a moment where she was allowing them an opportunity to back off, but the inebriated criminals that populated this haunt would never give in. The skinhead and a friend rushed toward the girl, still attempting to merely grab hold of her. Now paying perfect attention, Ricky still was unable to follow Reiko's movements. She seemed to almost disappear for a split-second before he spotted her crouched low and fluidly flowing forward as the charging men began to collide with each other. In another flash she was airborne, a leg flashing out in snaps that made loud cracking noises, almost indistinguishable one from the other, dropping both men to the ground instantly. A dozen ruffians were now heading in, many beginning to draw various weapons. Like a machine, the girl targeted the highest threats. She dropped to the floor again, spinning in a blur that took every man in range off of his feet. A blinding double sidestep put her in the midst of a trio of leather-clad mob heavies, all of whom were drawing guns. None of them had a chance to level a weapon before a flurry of fists cracked each wrist, some spewing blood at the impact. The girl held on to the last wrist as the man howled in pain. Reiko's other hand slapped the 9mm out of her captive's hand and directly into the nose-bridge of a would-be shooter across the room. A shotgun cracked from another corner as it was loaded, which Reiko seemed already aware of. She circled the man she still held by the wrist, then in a spasm of movement from her knees to her shoulders and arms, she launched the 200-pound mobster like a baseball. The shotgun wielder fired out of sheer terror, nearly splitting the aerial body in half, though it still found it's mark, colliding with the shooter and sending both slamming into the back wall.

Again, there was a calm in the storm. A split second where Reiko stood upright, and began to take steps toward the pool room again. The hooker that Ricky's school buddy was chatting up was now panicking the front lock open, but even as a few other less prideful or wiser low-lifes rushed after her, most of the patrons still standing came at the girl even harder.

A Mexican drug courier that Ricky had worked with in the past drew down a Mac-10 sub-machine gun, and seemed to have Reiko pegged, but from Ricky's viewpoint, he could tell the mistakes that Tom-Tom had made. She was in no way unaware of him, and he was entirely too close to her. In a side-step that made her again seem like she simply blurred from one position to the next, Tom-Tom found himself with an arm broken in several places as his Mac-10 sprayed the gunmen who were just beginning to fire in their direction. Reiko seemed to pour like liquid into a position behind Tom-Tom as he filled with bullets and returned the same. A blond man who exhibited some military experience rolled into position just beyond the far side of Tom-Tom and produced his firearm quite professionally. Before his aim was leveled, Reiko's opposite arm flashed over and suddenly the .45 magnum and the hand that held it were gone. Ricky caught a flash of metallic light as a blade returned to Reiko's sleeve with a simple jerk. Standing upright very purposefully, Reiko shrugged Tom-Tom's bullet-ridden body off of her and into another on-comer. The blond man crawled backward as he screamed and jetted blood, while bullets continued to fly from the opposite wall of the bar. A muscular woman who looked as though she survived on sheer anger, brought an empty whiskey bottle to the little girl's head. To Ricky's disbelief, Reiko didn't react. She simply allowed the bottle to shatter against her skull, spraying blood in all directions. She did react to the woman's tackling follow-through, seeming to simply help her along on her path, while no longer being in it. The angry woman flew out of Ricky's sight, presumably into more furniture, judging by the crunching noise, and Reiko had seemed to procure the remaining bottle-neck from the woman like a pick-pocket. The young girl tossed the shard casually, which landed squarely in the eye-socket of the sawed-off shotgun wielding bartender.

For some reason, the remaining patrons kept on. Ricky had the bizarre and fleeting thought that he was watching some sort of performance art as this petite girl-child danced gracefully from opponent to opponent, disarming, incapacitating and dismembering them along the way. But as her foot first stepped into the pool room, only a few feet from Ricky's frozen spot, it melted into a horror movie. Thugs with delusions of stealth and wisdom attacked from vantage points along the side walls as she stepped through the doorway. Wielding switchblades and pool cues, Reiko took three of them down with a series of kicks to the throats where her leg never lowered until they all fell, and her gaze seemed to never leave Ward. The last group lunged as several more flew out of the back door in abject terror. In a fluid whirl of navy blue and silky black, blood-stained hair, they were finished. Reiko relieved the first attacker of his pool cue, which was shattered and used to impale the next two in their abdomens. The last set fell to her macabre dance of deadly accuracy, then she was toe to toe with Ricky.

Her hand flew to Ricky's throat before her eyes even turned to him. That's when he saw her emerald green eyes. She looked up at the career criminal with curiosity. Her face and hair were spattered in blood, and Ricky could swear he saw what appeared to be bloody holes in her dark raincoat. If she had been shot, though, it didn't seem to have made any difference. Ricky hardly had a chance to notice these things, however, as he couldn't stop looking at her out-of-place green eyes. He could see every detail of them, watching her pupils shrink to adjust to the cheap tiffany lamp behind him. Then, they seemed to get brighter, as if catching more light. The effect continued until Ricky was sure they were glowing from some source within. Reiko cocked her head as she studied Ricky a moment longer, then she turned to Ward.

Ward had his back to the wall, and had been inching toward the back door until he was less than 15 feet from it. His body froze, but Ricky could see that he was quite definitely sniffing at Reiko. His face blanched... and he bolted. Ricky was dropped unceremoniously by the little girl as she flew after her quarry. The last he saw of her was a flutter of navy blue flying out the back exit, then she was gone.

In the aftermath, several things became blatantly obvious to Ricky. The first was that he was more convinced than ever that she was after only one thing, Ward. She had tried several times to allow the carnage to stop. Secondly, Ricky saw that the only people who had actually died in the onslaught were those that had somehow caused it themselves. Essentially, Reiko hadn't killed anybody. Even the men impaled by cue sticks left the hospital after a couple of weeks. Ricky had followed up. The ex-marine with the severed hand had barely spent two days in medical care. The bartender's eye was even saved. Every death had come from gunfire and Reiko had never held a gun in the entire event. Ricky had even noted that the recoveries had all seemed a tad miraculous. This was congruent with Ricky's third observation. Something had happened when Reiko locked eyes with him. Within a few hours of the battle, he had noticed something different about himself. He didn't feel that hollowness that should've been raging through him by that point. He was no longer an addict. Ricky hadn't even had a cigarette, and suddenly found himself uninterested in them or his drugs. He took the time to get looked over thoroughly at the hospital as the authorities had insisted. Ricky heard words he'd never heard in his life, “You're in perfect health.” Richard Mancuso had been born with an enlarged heart. He had always considered it pure luck that he kept living, since health care in his mother's custody had been spotty at best. After a gun-shot wound at 21, Ricky had been given a stern warning by the mob surgeon that he was on borrowed time if he didn't get a transplant. Now, it seemed, Ricky Bing had no such heart problem. Later, Ricky ran into that school “buddy” again, and he shot finger-guns right back at him.

For Reiko, the night didn't end there.

Let me know your thoughts, any who read this: