Wasn’t no mystery to it.
Jellybean knew where all the customers got to. ‘Cept for the neediest fiends, they was all hunkered down in the hovels as evening fell, watching cable news and hiding from monsters.
Da Bean shot a dark, Pepsi-flavoured stream of spit through the gap between his front teeth. A thin tendril of sticky-sweet drool dropped onto his Lakers singlet, staining it. Right now, looking over the empty car lot in front of the Retread Warehouse, the only souls he could see were the ones Stross owned, looking bored with business. Moping around in front of the ‘done clinic. That was some telling shit. The corner with the methadone clinic was always busiest. There were a couple of packs of runners here and there, little kids, not running anywhere right now, on account of having no fiends to step and fetch it for.
“Monsters,” said Jellybean, shaking his head.
At first they’d been great for business. Dope fiends spilling out on the streets to party, everyone talking a big game about n’Orleans. And when the Army and that dumb cracker kicked ass outside of Omaha? Man, that was like Christmas and Thanksgiving got high and had themselves an orgy with July 4’s hot sister. Fiends were kickin’ it. Not just fiends though. Everyone, the whole city. You could hear music all over and there was fire works and everyone was out on the street, and then that Super Dave asshole turned up in LA to party in person?
Damn. They banked some foldable currency that day, Jose.
Not much since though.
And not today, that was for damn sure.
Couldn’t hear no music now either, but you could see fireworks in the gathering gloom, if tracer rounds counted. You could hear the crackle and hammer of automatic weapons all over LA. Sometimes, like just now, long ropey streams of fire, all orange and yellow, flew up from the earth, racing away into the sky. You heard sirens, of course. But they weren’t racing towards the gunfire. Not always. The sirens howled everywhere. Fat Skin told Jellybean the cops weren’t even busting motherfuckers for open carry. Not even hassling, bro! They just pointing, saying, monsters-be-that-a-way-son. Go git.
And that was terrifying, because Jellybean Johnson might not go to Church these days, but those nuns they beat the fear of God in deep. And flip over the fear of God you got a fear of the Devil and all his works.
Devil’s work was what happened down n’Orleans. And the Devil’s fiends be those sabre tooth orc motherfuckers with Gozilla’s own cojones. Them and the dragons and the fuckin’ zombies they got shambling around the ass end of Nebraska now.
Jellybean searched for the gun at his hip, even though he could feel the weight of it there. He just needed to touch the grip, to reassure himself.
Thing was, the Mayor? He’d lost his shit. Weren’t one damn monster anywhere inside LA. They all out in the desert getting smoked by the air force. But whitey already freaked the fuck out. Open carry was proof of that.
That’s what scared Jellybean. White money was the most powerful gang in the city. It didn’t just rule, it reigned. It was an absolute fucking monarch.
Didn’t need demons coming in here to tear this city down. It was gonna tear itself apart because the king had gone mad.
Jellybean could feel it coming.
He could hear it.
Not just the random screaming of some bitch gettin’ schooled by her old man. Or someone gone crazy on bath salts or something.
A lot of screaming by a lot of people.
They could hear it down on the corners too, he could see that.
Dog-10 and The King Johnson were already weapons out, hard up against cover. Knees bent, Dog-10 leaned into the corner of the 7-11 and bobbed his head around, gun first.
Jellybean heard the flat crack of the pistol, slightly muted by distance. But only slightly.
Two shots, a pause, then three.
Then all at once everything broke open down on the streets. The corner crews blasting away at nothing da Bean could see yet. The runners running, screaming, adding their tiny high-pitched cries to the swelling crowd noise that rolled on them like a big surf.
He fumbled his own weapon free, looking for something to shoot. All those rational thoughts about the total absence of monsters on the streets of LA - all gone. Jellybean saw movement, a few blocks away. Not just a few people, but hundreds of them, maybe thousands. All running and screaming, all coming straight at him. The gunfire sounded less and less impressive, as the roar of the crowd swelled and swallowed it. First Tonik broke and then Fingaz, and then all of Mr. Stross’s soldiers were running.
Jellybean found himself doing a stupid dance, a little two step. One step towards the rusted ladder would carry him to the ground. One step back towards the AK leaned up against the roofline.
No way would Officer fuckin’ Friendly be letting Jellybean Johnson step out with a Kalashnikov. But that sort of artillery was precisely what a captain needed to own this area of operations.
That’s what Stross always called the hood. The area of operations. Didn’t matter which hood. It was always the area of operations to Mr Stross.
Jellybean stood, dancing from toe to toe, at the broken, grimy parapet of the Retread Warehouse, with his mouth hanging open as a human tide washed over Mr fuckin' Stross’s area of operations. You could see those peeps were running from something, not towards him. So many of them screaming, looking back over their shoulders, sometimes stumbling and tripping because they had. Getting ploughed under, trampled by the madness of the herd.
Well, fuck Stross and fuck his operations, da Bean decided. He turned and ran as fast as his stumpy, overstuffed sausage legs would carry him towards the creaky ladder that would deliver him to the ground. He had time, just enough time he was sure, to jump into his ride and lay down some tyre smoke headed for anywhere but here.
He had no idea what the crowd was running from, but it had to be something as bad as n’Orleans. Had to be monsters for real this time.
His hand drifted to the gun at his hip as he made the ladder and put his foot on the first rung. But of course he couldn’t climb down while he was holding a big ass .45.
And then he understood that he couldn’t climb down at all. Because he was too late. The monster was already here.
Standing – no, floating! – actually floating like a magic motherfucker directly below him, in the dark, shaded lee of the Retread Warehouse.
Jellybean didn’t stop to take in the show. He got a quick impression of some long thin streak of evil misery, somehow drifting a foot or so above the ground, and his balls crawled up into his body and kept on going. They crawled so high, so fast they might have choked him if he hadn’t reacted with the quick wit and immoral ruthlessness that had allowed him to rise so high in the esteem and organisation of Mister Area-of-Operations Stross.
Without thinking on consequence Jellybean Johnson aimed the silver-plated big ass Colt and unloaded half the clip directly into the melon of that spooky floating motherfucker directly beneath his feet.