The possibility existed that Mullet knew nothing of the symbiotic relationship between Bridge and Spade.  He may have had no clue that, without the cat, the man he was facing off against was little more than just that—a man—, and the kick signified only a deep-seated hatred of cats.  Whatever the case, from here on out, Bridge was on his own.

“I’ve never been good at math, but three against…” Rook was staring at his shoes as if seeing them for the first time “…one hardly seems fair.”  Tire Iron tittered like a school girl passing notes at the back of class, which earned him dirty looks from both Mullet and Forehead.  He continued nevertheless, until Bridge added, “To you.”

Addressing Lucy, Bridge said, “Maybe they don’t know me, but you do.  And you know that if you mean to take the rook away from me, these three primates won’t be enough to get the job done.”  With a slow sweep of his arm, Bridge maneuvered the dead man into a position directly behind himself.  “There’s no shame in walking away.”

No one moved while Lucy seemed to mull over his options.  It was nothing but pretense.  There was never the slightest chance he would back down, but Bridge felt obligated to offer it anyway.  It was the kind of action that would go a long way toward soothing his conscience later on.  However, time was short.  Raising his fists, he called Lucy’s bluff.  “I’ve got a train to catch, so let’s not be gentlemen about this,” he said.  “Give it everything you’ve got.  One at a time or all at once.  Let’s go.”

Lucy gave the go-ahead with a nod, and all three opponents entered the fray.  Bridge’s plan was nothing original.  His first step would be to eliminate the man with the weapon.  Not because he was more dangerous, but because the other two clearly felt they didn’t need to be armed.  That might not make Tire Iron the weakest of the three, but his namesake was nobody’s weapon of choice, only a blatant sign of insecurity.  Mullet and Forehead might have a better picture of who and what they were up against when they saw Bridge take the tool away from their compatriot and then beat him with it.

As luck would have it, Tire Iron took the lead, charging in and swinging wildly at eye level.  Had the man made contact, Bridge’s head would have resembled the letter “C,” but for that to happen Bridge would have to stand still, which was not in the cards.  Tire Iron’s warrior yell was cut short by a well-placed knee to the solar plexus.  As all the air rushed out of his attacker, Bridge spun on his heel, rotating Tire Iron into the path of his friends.  His weapon clanged against cement.  With a push, the man went flying forward, sending Mullet and Forehead to the left and right.  By that time, Bridge had dropped to the ground and was kicking backward with both legs like a mule.

While his left foot glanced off of Mullet’s leg, his right made solid contact with Forehead’s kneecap, shattering it and forcing the leg to fold in a way its designer had never intended.  The howl of pain that erupted from the owner was nothing short of earsplitting and grew worse once he dropped to what remained of his knees.  Mercifully, it only lasted until Bridge was able to drive a forearm into the man’s throat.  Then there was only choking and sputtering before he collapsed face down and the fight became two against one.

The scrape of metal against pavement informed him that the tire iron was back in play.  His hand was shooting out to stop its swing even before his head had turned far enough to see it.  For Lucy, it was not unlike slamming the metal into a brick wall, the vibrations traveling up his remaining arm and through his wiry frame.  They stopped when Bridge closed his free hand over Lucy’s and started to squeeze.

“You should have stayed out of it,” Bridge said.  “You know I’d never hurt a man with a woman’s name.”  The bones in the one-armed man’s fingers gave way one at a time, snapping like dry twigs.  The pain refused to let him do more than open his mouth in a soundless scream.  “Well,… maybe just this once.”

Before Bridge could consider what was to become of Lucy’s thumb, a steel-toed boot rocketed into his kidneys, a gentle reminder that he should expect to see blood in the toilet bowl come morning.  He turned just in time to receive a punch of equivalent force across the jaw.  Though the blow should have put him on his knees, he refused to offer up his head as a target.  One more shot to the skull and he wouldn’t remember who he was, let alone why he was fighting.  Instead, he staggered backward until Tire Iron caught him.  The man then snaked his arms around Bridge’s torso and locked hands behind Bridge’s neck, completing a full nelson.  His head abuzz and left eye strobing, Bridge let himself go limp.  For the moment, there was nothing else to do.

Somewhere in there, Lucy found his voice and refused to release his grip on it.  He held his one hand in front of his face, the fingers bent and crumpled like ground out cigarette butts.  His screams did nothing to straighten them.  That was going to require a highly skilled surgeon, if it were even possible.

His eyes seemingly never leaving Bridge’s, Mullet delivered a vicious roundhouse kick to Lucy’s face and then there was silence all around.  As he approached a restrained Bridge, there was no change in his expression.  Mullet paused just long enough to retrieve the fallen tire iron from the ground, testing its solidity by smacking the palm of his hand.  The next stop for it would be Bridge’s face.

Only when Mullet was within striking distance did Bridge notice something strange about him.  At first, he thought it might be a trick of the light, but closer inspection proved him wrong.  The man was in fact casting two shadows.  Only one could be real, and based on the arrangement of street lamps, the legitimate shadow was stretched out behind him.  That much was confirmed when the inky outline between himself and Mullet rose up from the pavement, resolving itself into a far nastier looking form.  It was tall and thin and all sharp angles, especially when it came to its hands, both ending in lengthy claws.

Whatever response Mullet might have plotted out, given time, it was a safe bet it didn’t involve his own evisceration.  He wasn’t yet finished with the mental math when his shoes were introduced to his own still-steaming intestines.  Tire Iron—now Acne—was at least bright enough to see that, were he to remain, his time on this earth was limited.  Releasing Bridge, he turned and made a run for it.

In the meantime, the shadow focused on Bridge.  Though it did not appear to have eyes, it cocked its head to the right in observance.  As long as he’d been witnessing the workings of this world and the next, Bridge had never seen anything like this before.  When it came for him—arms outstretched—, he knew enough to realize there was no escape.  Rather than attempt to flee, he moved towards it, in acceptance.

But Bridge wasn’t the object of the shadow’s interest.  With the flat of one oversized hand, it reached out to the man’s chest, pushing him aside as it pursued its true quarry.

Acne never stood a chance.  Somehow the shadow’s claws pierced the man’s back and latched onto his spine, stopping him in his tracks.  Or at least part of him.  Momentum propelled his flesh forward—at least for another three feet—, while the entirety of his skeletal structure remained in place.  For one brief moment, his skin hung emptied in the air before sagging and puddling in the street.

As quickly as the shadow had appeared, it fled, reconnecting with other standing shadows and melting into them.  Bridge stood stock-still, hand over the spot on his chest where the creature had touched him.  There was no way of knowing how long he stood there, but the sound of a familiar voice coming from behind him woke him back up.  “Don’t just stand there like an imbecile.”

Spade.  Shaking glass out of his fur, he leapt down from the hood of the car whose windshield he’d demolished.  The only visible sign of damage was on his right ear, the tip of it severed and holding on for dear life.  It might be salvageable.  He crossed to Lucy’s prone body and hopped up onto his stomach.  The one-armed man coughed, shooting a spray of blood into the air.

There was a superior tone to Spade’s voice when he said, “If you want information out of this jackass, you’d better get it before he’s dead.”  Despite the time sensitive nature of the situation, Bridge couldn’t convince himself to walk the few feet between himself and the cat.  Five minutes ago, he couldn’t have imagined anything more important than the opportunity to interrogate Lucy, but that was before the timely arrival of the mysterious shadow, with its pitch black body and bone white hands.

Chapter 17 available on Wednesday, April 11th!

By Bryan Kluger

Former husky model, real-life Comic Book Guy, genre-bending screenwriter, nude filmmaker, hairy podcaster, pro-wrestling idiot-savant, who has a penchant for solving Rubik's Cubes and rolling candy cigarettes on unreleased bootlegs of Frank Zappa records.

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