Monday, February 6, 2012

Confessions of a Video Game Geek: MASS EFFECT

Okay. It's only a month before Bioware's "Mass Effect 3" is released.

I can't overstate this: I'm getting to be beside myself with anticipation. I say that as a certifiably addicted fan of the "Mass Effect" series. I've played the first two games to death, yet at the same time I haven't played them enough. I'm fully ready to do the same with #3. Why do I say such things? Why have I been so hooked to "Mass Effect" since the first day I started it up and began that fateful mission to Eden Prime? What is it about these games, and why am I beyond ready to play the third and final(?) installment of what has been universally called one of the best video game series ever made? And why am I not the only one who feels that way?

If you haven't played "Mass Effect" or its sequel, it's hard to's even harder if you never played video games.

I've grown up with the evolution of video games...I've been there with "Pong", "Space Invaders", "Pac Man" and "Donkey Kong". I never really thought of myself as a gamer, though, until the age of the Sony PlayStation came along. I've loved to watch a good movie or read a good book, and that love became an aspiration to write myself. As story became more and more important in the process of making games, my attraction to games could only increase. I couldn't get enough of games that defined the PSOne like "Resident Evil", "Metal Gear Solid", and the seventh and eighth installments of "Final Fantasy", games that not only told a good story but immersed the gamer in alternate virutal worlds.

As much as I love action games -- especially first person shooters -- and adventure games, role playing video games always had a certain call to me. The RPG is often one of the most time-sucking experiences you can find, but when a game is made by the best in the business like "Final Fantasy", the loss of those hours is worth it. You get used to living under new rules in a fantastic new setting, while getting to know truly interesting and cool characters and building experience and strength from many battles against many different kinds of enemies as you work toward the game's conclusion. But all the time, there was one thing getting in the way of having a truly immersive experience: the fact that what you were doing didn't involve a whole lot of choice. Playing an RPG meant playing through a linear storyline with one set path and one possible conclusion at the end.

As video games have evolved, however, the freedom of deciding what one can do and when has been a desire game makers have done their best to answer. At first, games like "Grand Theft Auto" offered an experience like playing in a big sandbox, where you can do what you want when you want it. Still, that didn't put a whole lot of impact on the story. Then the RPG-FPS hybrid "Deus Ex" was created for the PC in 2000, and its quality and innovation brought it as close to the Choose Your Adventure form of storytelling as one could imagine, including giving the gamer the chance to choose the ending of the story. The game went so far as to give a wealth of options for fighting adversaries or avoiding them altogether...many gamers have gotten through "Deus Ex" without firing a single shot!

But then, a group of respected game developers from Canada took the most popular American science fiction mythos of the 20th Century and made something truly special.

The company of game developers, Bioware, created "Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic" in 2003 for the Xbox and PC, and spared little effort in making an astounding action-RPG. It didn't just take the fictional mythology created by George Lucas (with his approval and the assistance of Lucasarts) to make Star Wars fun again for the first time since the original trilogy, it took role playing to an addicitve new level of immersion. Set four thousand years before the films to a time at the height of both the Old Republic and the Sith Empire and their conflict, the experience went surprisingly deeper than choosing your own path, and even how the game came to a close. You could not only choose what kind of character you could play, male or female, rogue or soldier or what have you, your ability to choose even included how you could interact with NPCs (non playable characters) and therefore not only drive the story along, determine your alignment with good (Light Side) or evil (Dark Side). When having a conversation with another character, you could choose from a menu list of noble, neutral or selfish responses, which would lead to an appropriately fitting reaction. At key moments, if you wanted to be REALLY evil, you can even kill supporting characters who are in your way, no longer of use, or just plain annoy you. God, if only audiences had that ability while watching "The Phantom Menace", Jar Jar Binks would have been SO dead before he even had the chance to take Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon to Gungan City! As a dramatic side effect of making decisions that lean to the Dark Side, the appearance of the player's character gradually changes to look more evil, as well. The storytelling was impressive enough, including one of the most jaw-dropping twists you'll ever see in a story in any medium, but the overall freedom of choice made the experience all the sweeter. How can you not love a game where you could play a female Jedi and have a lesbian relationship with an alien cat girl -- no sex scenes, though, sorry! -- if you wanted? The fact this game won many Game of the Year accolades is testament enough to the love gamers felt.

The sequel to "KOTOR", "The Sith Lords", was created two years later, developed not by Bioware but by Obsidian Entertainment with Lucasarts for the Xbox and PC. Unfortunately, the second game wasn't as good as the first...the developer's need to rush the game to release made the experience incomplete, coupled with a story that just wasn't as good as the original's. Still, I liked the fact that the player's choices this time can not only visually change their character's appearance, but also the looks of the supporting characters. Why wasn't Bioware involved with "The Sith Lords"? Because they were focused on an original action-RPG, "Jade Empire", which arrived on the Xbox in 2005 and the PC in 2006. Set in a fictonal-mythical world inspired by ancient legends and lore of China, this game also used the tried and true gameplay and dialogue menu systems of the "KOTOR" games. The difference here was that instead of Light and Dark Side, a player could follow the in-game philosophies of either the Open Palm or the Closed Fist to decide what path they would take in the story. The game was given high praise, but some criticized its lack of depth.

In 2005, also, the Xbox 360 was brought to gamers as part of the next generation of consoles. It's appropriate to mention that because two years later, Bioware took everything they learned and devised from "KOTOR" and "Jade Empire" to create a new and original creation for the 360. As a result, they raised the bar of quality for video games in general.

The result was Bioware's "Mass Effect", a space opera in the tradition of "Star Wars".


Where? Check out my new fan blog, "Mass Effect Universe"!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Women Warriors, Part Four: MICHIKO NISHIWAKI

(It's about damn time I restarted this!)

It's without question that each of the actresses forever identified with the 'Girls With Guns' movement of Hong Kong action films were each unique in a given way. Take the screen personas of those I've described so far. Yukari Oshima is as hard-edged and pure in her fighting ability and presence as a katana blade. Moon Lee embodies the cute girl next door you couldn't help but like...but don't get on her bad side! Michelle Yeoh, thanks in part to her background in dance, is grace personified, even in the eye of a storm of bullets or facing a room full of bad guys.

The lady I'm about to describe made her own mark, too, a beauty who seems to be built battleship-tough.

No one could have predicted the life direction that Michiko Nishiwaki took, but then she was a trailblazer in a truly unique way. In part to improve her self-image, she worked hard and long at bodybuilding, something most women in her native Japan wouldn't even have given a thought to. Michiko didn't just excel: she became her country's first bodybuilding and powerlifting champion! In the process, she got the attention of Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung, two fast-rising stars in Hong Kong cinema. Her one-of-a-kind combination of beauty and muscular strength helped her get cast in a truly memorable role as a Yakuza heavy in the 1985 comedy-actioner, "My Lucky Stars".

I've seen the film, and "My Lucky Stars" won't leave anyone feeling lucky to have watched most of it! The comedy can get tedious and doesn't translate well, even dubbed into English. But then the last half hour of the film hits, and the action that Jackie and Sammo are legendary for hits...and then we see Michiko, a quiet image in a floral kimono. Then she takes it off to fight a lady cop, and if you're a guy, if your jaw DOESN'T drop seeing this bodybuilding beauty in a one-piece swimsuit, then you're severely gay.

Michiko's options were limited, unfortunately, but not because of a lack of martial arts or ability to speak Cantonese, the prevailing language HK films used. (She got better with both over time, though.) Like Yukari Oshima, Michiko almost consistently was typecast as a villain because she was Japanese. She still made a truly memorable mark in most of her films, especially "In the Line of Duty 3", "God of Gamblers" and "Magic Cop". Michiko then broadened her horizons and moved to Hollywood, and has been seen on the silver screen doing stunts in films from "Blade" to "Mission: Impossible 3"...she has slowed down since to focus on family life with her husband and son in California.

Whatever we'll see Michiko in next, I've got faith she'll leave an unforgettable she usually does! :)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Better living through technology! Or...not!

Who doesn't remember "The Jetsons"? That's right, that old Hanna-Barbera toon set in a far-off future of flying bubble-cars, mile-high apartment buildings, and such centered on a suburban family led by George Jetson, his wife Jane, their boy Elroy and daughter Judy, and their big but lovable dog Astro. It was a humorous take on 'utopian' visions of the future, where every need can literally be satisfied by the push of a button, but the simple push of a button can be exhausting for the super-pampered! Think "Star Trek", but where Captain Kirk can't get out of bed with his Orion slave woman because whatever futuristic sex toys and equipment they're using is making him too damn lazy to fight Klingons.

Yeah, there's a dark side to the wonders of progress, and I don't just mean world-breaking stuff like nuclear bombs and genetic experimentation, the kind of shit where just because we can go there doesn't mean we should. But how do we know when we shouldn't? How high can technology go before we yell, "JANE, STOP THIS CRAZY THING!" Surprise, there's a sign we may already BE there, and without the benefit of robo-maids.

The British Psychological Society has just determined through a study that smartphones cause stress. Why? Because those who use smartphones are plugged into most everything digital online, and a 'helpful-stressful' cycle happens. The device manages the workload fine, but the user increasingly needs the connections he/she has access to until they depend on it, until they can't live without it.

The study went further to show that those who were apart from their smartphones eventually felt relief and happiness not being 'plugged in'. But I had always thought that progress would make things BETTER, not harder! (For the record, though, I don't own any of that iPod, smartphone, tablet, or whatever stuff. And I've saved myself some stress because of it!) In this case, though, we're learning when to say when...

"Jane, I'm suffering withdrawal from my iPhone!"

Monday, January 9, 2012

Wishes do come true, don't they!

2012 is definitely a year that's already looking up, and I'm not saying that for myself. (Wish I could, dammit!) I'm saying things are great for Sydney Spies, an 18-year-old girl just about to break out of high school. Anybody who's been in high school knows things can only get better from there. I sure as hell know it.

Anyhow. Sydney, who has aspirations to be a model, wanted to do something special for her yearbook pic. The picture you see below is that something special. It's actually one of two glamour shots she did, but both were rejected by the yearbook staff, which was made up of fellow students. (I know something about that, since at my high school I was part of the yearbook staff.) Why the rejection? Because Sydney was being too risque.

Wait, what?

Look at the pic below. Now maybe it's just me, a guy who lives in a world of Hooters and Playboy and proud of it (except that Playboy's cable channel is going WAY into x-rated smut...the magazine and its owner/creator, Hugh Hefner, did have more class back in the day), but I don't see much that's objectionable about Sydney's photo! She's a beautiful girl in a glamour shot looking at the camera with a babydoll glance. And this girl -- 18 and legal! -- isn't showing much skin; the only way she could is by downsizing to a bikini! In short, I didn't see much for anyone to get twisted into knots about. Sydney's peers on the yearbook staff felt differently, which is their right, but I'm surprised they saw something objectionable or inappropriate.

Funny Fact One: Sydney's gonna get her photo in the yearbook anyway, by way of PAYING for it. It'll cost her $300, which damned well sucks. It also shows how hypocritical those involved with the yearbook staff are. "No, you CAN'T have a model pic in our yearbook! It's tasteless and...! Oh wait, you'll pay for it if we put it in our ad space? Cool!" Those jerks are as bad as the Harper Valley PTA. (Who remembers that song? Or how much Barbara Eden rocked in the movie? At least that was fictional!)

Funny Fact Two: Sydney and her mom, Miki, protested the yearbook's decision, and that's how it became national news. The story is something for those who believe in freedom of expression and those who argue about what's appropriate and what isn't to talk about and...

Oh, who the hell am I kidding? Freedom of expression and moral correctness are footnotes to this story. Bottom line, Sydney's getting what she wanted in spades...she's a beautiful young lady who is being given exposure from sea to shining sea, and for someone who wants to be a model that means more than a simple yearbook photo. I hope this exposure leads Sydney to good things, truly. The moral of this story? If you want to make molehills into mountains -- that is, be too finicky about how someone looks for a yearbook photo -- don't be surprised if you still attract attention!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

2011...not the best of years.

A lot of things make me hopeful that 2012 will be a good year, and that's mostly because of how sucky the year before was.

I wish I could say the crappiness of 2011 was just from the strange, idiotic ways of my fellow humans, embodied glaringly by the Occupy movements here, there and every-damn-where, trying to make living like a bum look fashionable while not having a damn clue what their goals were. I can't kid about that...most of those bush-league activists didn't even know what they wanted, or how to get it outside of sitting in public places with a pout. We lost those who one way or the other made our lives brighter, or at least more entertaining, and I don't just mean Elizabeth Taylor; James Arness, Matt Dillon himself from "Gunsmoke", and Susannah York, who played the one true love of a rascal in "Tom Jones" (perhaps the best comedy ever made) and the mother of Kal-El in Richard Donner's first two "Superman" films, were among many who left our mortal coil feeling a little emptier. It was a year of highs and lows, too...from my Cardinals winning the World Series to Albert Pujols leaving for an offer in the HUNDREDS of millions of dollars. I could make a blog about how possessive sports fans are, but I'd only get some folks mad. I could also make one about how absolutely ludicrous the business of sports has become that team owners would shell out so much for a friggin' BASEBALL PLAYER, but then my head would hurt from the idiocy...

Yeah, 2011 was sucky...but it could have been a lot worse.

In the Spring in my area, a tornado passed through my neighborhood and St. Louis County. Power was lost to many areas for weeks and homes were heavily damaged in the storm's violent path. It could have been a lot home could have been one of those damaged or destroyed. My family was without power for a mere few days, but it could have been for a lot longer.

But my heart and soul keeps thinking of Japan, a country I've always wanted to visit and explore, and how much worse it could have been there.

No one expected the merciless one-two punch of both an earthquake and tsunami hitting Japan, one after the other. In spite of the best safety restrictions, several nuclear reactors in the country were heavily damaged and radiation leaked out. Human ingenuity and a massive groundswell of international support kept the situation from getting into the realm of a disaster like Chernobyl, but the cleanup is still a very long way from being done, and entire communites had been displaced or evacuated.

That's why I'm hopeful for a happier new year, for Japan and everyone.

Monday, December 5, 2011

"HELL KNIGHT", Chapter Three: First Cut


This was how it began.
T-Bone, who stood with Mad Dawg in the club’s showroom, heard his cell phone ring. He picked it up immediately, anticipating Yuki on the other end. He answered, “Yuki? Is it time?”
But T-Bone was startled to hear a man’s voice: “Yes. Get ready.”
“Who the fuck is this?”
“This is Danny Choi. It’s all right, we’re going to assist Yuki downstairs. She told me what has to happen. You know what to do, right?”
“…Right.” He was more than slightly surprised that Danny would be helping them…but Yuki said he would, and T-Bone realized he should have known better than to doubt her. But what the hell did Danny mean by ‘we’? Before he got the chance to ask, Danny hung up.
Mad Dawg looked at him expectantly. “It’s goin’ down?”
“Yeah.” Anticipation increased in his being. “Yeah Dawg, it’s goin’ down.”
“We live for her, and we die for her. You feelin’ me, T?”
“Won’t be any other fuckin’ way, my brother.”


Access to the basement level of the Hot Biscuit could have been found in two places: at either end of a long hall behind the V.I.P. rooms. At each end was a set of stairs that led down to the basement, and when one reached bottom from either end there was a second long hall. Halfway down this hall was a sliding door that opened into a handsome dining room where food would be served for special meetings.
One such meeting was being held that late night, a dinner presided over as ever by Antonio Pucci.
Pucci was seated at the head of a large table…seated with him were the leaders of several other operations, from narcotics to vending, from across Missouri and Illinois under the control of the Roccoli crime family. On both sides of him were two soldiers who mirrored the all-business appearance of their colleagues upstairs. They were the only ones in the room who weren’t laughing with Pucci because he had just finished telling a particularly raunchy joke as they celebrated a record month of ill-gotten profit. All sat in front of plates full of Italian food and glasses of sweet concord wine.
Pucci, from the perspective of his colleagues, appeared to be a very happy man, and it was difficult not to laugh with him. It was also easy to understand why someone in his position would be happy: he was the rising star in Boss Roccoli’s organization, coming up from nothing within a handful of years with a nasty combination of financial genius and cobra-like cunning to become the capo of his operation. He was just within the rarified air that was occupied by Nico himself, his son Guido, their family lawyer-slash-consigliere, and a handful of others. Rumor was that Pucci would rise to the rank of Underboss to Guido Roccoli when his father inevitably retired.
Yes, Pucci seemed to be a happy man to those in the room who secretly chafed at the thought of being subordinate to this son of a bitch.
But…they couldn’t have known there was more than one reason the one they knew as Antonio Pucci laughed.
And if they knew the reasons…they would have stopped laughing with him.
Outside in the basement hall, Danny Choi walked forward silently past the dining room door to the far end of the hall and its stairwell. Standing close to the bottom of the other stairwell was Delilah, still in her silk robe.
Then Yuki strode up to the door. She stopped there, and reflected on where she had been. She thought of where she could be going from here…because of this moment. She whispered to herself softly, “Now.”
Words did not matter. Thought did not matter. Only action.
She opened the door.


For a few seconds, none of the men in the room noticed the door slide open. But all it took was one glance from the one known as Antonio Pucci in response to noticing the movement of the door, and his laughter died. He blinked in seeming confusion at the stranger who was at the doorway, and his enforcers responded with similar looks of confusion. A few at the table took notice that the one they called Pucci wasn’t laughing anymore, and turned to see what he was looking at. In rapid succession, everyone else at the table did the same.
They all saw the woman, standing at the threshold.
No one else noticed that the expressions on the faces of the one called Pucci and his guards had changed. From confusion…to anger…and then something else.
It was recognition.
All of this took the space of between four and five seconds.
Then, for most of those in the dining room, time by their perceptions slowed…almost a blessing considering they had approximately another six seconds of life to them. It was a natural reaction when the woman reached under both sides of her hooded coat, and then each of her hands brought into the light a Mini Uzi submachine gun.
Yuki pointed both weapons at Pucci and squeezed the triggers.
In spite of the weapon’s diminutive size and weight, the Mini Uzi was in many ways a more fearsome weapon than its larger predecessor, created by an Israeli named Usiel Gal. The Mini Uzi’s rate of fire was 950 rounds per minute, one and a half times greater than the standard Uzi carbine’s capability to fire 600 rounds in the same time period, and slightly greater than that of the comparatively more popular Heckler and Koch MP5K SMG. A Mini Uzi’s effective range was only 100 meters, but in close quarters that limitation didn’t mean a great deal if the weapon was being fired at you.
To be certain, the men present with the one called Pucci didn’t give a shit.
The host of the dinner had bolted to a standing position just before Yuki fired; as a result, several rounds that would have been immediately fatal chopped into the capo’s legs and lower torso. Yuki, never relaxing pressure on the triggers of the guns, spread her arms and 9 millimeter Parabellum rounds tore into both his soldati at the midsection and doubled them over as the one called Pucci screamed and collapsed…and then into the rest of the men on both sides of the table. Some were already fumbling for guns under their coats, while others were too stupefied by the suddenness of the assault to react before the sweeping fire reached them.


Upstairs, the machinegun fire was heard in spite of the loud techno of the club. Some of the enforcers didn’t hear it…others closer to the door that led to the back and then downstairs did. One of the men screamed to the others, “Shit, we got fuckin’ gunfire in back! Hey! HEY! GUNFIRE FROM THE BACK! THE BOSS MAY BE IN FUCKING TROUBLE, C’MON!”
Mad Dawg and T-Bone, meanwhile, had barely heard it themselves. They knew what they had to do. Dawg pulled out his Glock, and T-Bone whipped out Bennie’s 92F. They brought up their nines and began shooting the enforcers in the showroom, and hoped they’d kill them all, keep them from going downstairs.
It would surprise the customers and dancers in retrospect that the gangstas did everything they could to avoid killing anyone but the enforcers.


Yuki walked toward the head of the table, past the dead and dying bodies that surrounded it; the empty guns fell from her hands. The one called Pucci was grievously wounded with multiple hits in his legs and stomach. Trying to scramble backward on his elbows and hands, trying to drag dead legs with him until his back came into contact with the far wall. The one called Pucci, trapped, could only look at Yuki as she closed the distance on him. He couldn’t help but stare at the beautiful face ironclad in a neutral expression of pure, undeniable purpose.
The one called Pucci never noticed the cord tied around her neck…connected to the scabbard that held the sword concealed under the bulky back of her hoodie and just under the rear of the belt of her khakis, running along her spine. Yuki reached behind her neck, under her hood and back collar, and her hand found the leather-wrapped handle…in a chrome flash, she withdrew the katana’s length, held it over her head, prepared for a killing blow. The one called Pucci froze, horror clashing with a strange, seemingly cheated anger.
Yuki’s arm reared back to deliver a downward strike.
She was the very image of judgment.
The one with the name Antonio Pucci screamed.
The scream was cut short half a second after it started. Yuki’s sword sang through the air and bisected his face and the front of his head with a wet SCHUKKK! The sword continued to tear through the flesh of its victim’s throat and chest, due to its wielder’s strength more than its sharpened blade, and finally broke free just below the sternum. Blood exploded from the great vertical wound in a gout and splashed across Yuki’s face and body.
Unaffected by the blood, Yuki simply stood there for a moment. She intently watched the one called Antonio Pucci until his very dead body stopped twitching.


Upstairs, in the showroom, the situation was chaotic.
Customers and dancers (and a few bouncers) screamed as they huddled on the floor and behind the bar as the gunfight intensified, and gunpowder clouded the smoky air further. Mad Dawg and T-Bone had good timing…the man who shouted a warning to his fellow enforcers created enough confusion for the gangstas to get the drop on them, just as Yuki had anticipated when she planned their attack on the way there. It did work initially: Dawg and T capped four of the fuckers and winged another within the first handful of seconds, but their adversaries were numerically superior and a little quicker to rebound than expected. The survivors scattered for available cover and returned fire wildly. The gangstas, not being fools, followed suit and ducked for cover behind a thick leather sofa reserved for lap dances. It wasn’t the best choice for cover against bullets – its thick upholstery wouldn’t last long – but it was preferable by far to no cover at all.
There were a half-dozen of Pucci’s men left in the showroom and one of them, the one Mad Dawg shot in the arm, took the initiative. The sustained machinegun fire he and the others heard just before from back (and most undoubtedly from downstairs, considering how important Pucci was), told him these assholes meant nothing. They were only a distraction, and their first priority was to the boss’ safety. He yelled at two of the hardmen closest to him, “You two, we’re going downstairs! They’re after Pucci!” He whirled around to the others under cover and roared, “COVER US! WE’RE GOING DOWNSTAIRS!”
Three of the men began laying down covering fire as the others dashed into the doorway to the V.I.P. rooms. And the back hall.
“Shit, Dawg!” T-Bone was beside himself as he realized what was happening, but he couldn’t do much about it behind the slowly-disintegrating couch. “They’re goin’ after Yuki! We gots t’do somethin’!”
Dawg looked at him hard. “Ain’t much we can do about that, T! Gotta take care of ourselves now! Besides…you and I both know those fuckers goin’ downstairs are gonna be dead, one way or the other! They just don’ know it!”


At one end of the hallway was Danny Choi, who knew a clarity of purpose he couldn’t have imagined before. He had heard the half-second scream, and knew it was good.
Delilah heard the same from the other end of the hallway. She also heard the heavy gunfire above. She simply thought to herself: Okay, if anybody’s coming downstairs, it’ll be any time now. She clenched the piece of metal in her left hand, concealed it behind her slender hip from the view of anyone who would come down the stairs at her end. The dancer thought, Anything for you, Yuki. I’ll die for you.
I’ll kill for you.
She only had to wait another few seconds.
On Danny’s end, two enforcers rushed down the stairwell, guns drawn. Both saw the man in the cream-colored suit waiting only a few paces away from the bottom. One of the men, beefy with a half-ass crewcut, shouted, “Danny, what the fuck’s going on?! We need to get the boss and get – !”
The slob with the crewcut never had the chance to say another word because Danny closed the distance between them within a second, and with no preamble his right hand flashed forward. The two-finger thrust drove into the man’s throat, crushing it. The guy dropped his gun and his hands groped at a windpipe that wouldn’t work anymore. The other man said, “Shit!” He should have used the split-second chance he had to train his pistol on Danny. It wouldn’t have mattered because he was already in motion, and his right leg flashed into a side kick that smashed into the gunman’s chest. He might as well have been hit with a sledgehammer: he was knocked backward a few feet into the wall next to the stairwell, and bounced off it like he was made of rubber. He stumbled toward Danny, who with a grim expression caught the man’s head in his hands, and with a brutally efficient motion snapped his neck. The guy fell to the ground in a heap as his partner with the crewcut crashed to his knees…his lips turned a deadly shade of blue. He managed to look up at Danny with an almost childish expression of surprise.
Down the stairwell at the other end of the hallway came a third man, gun drawn, his left shoulder bleeding. All the enforcer could think of was to get to Pucci, help him if he was still alive, and kill whoever was responsible for this shit. He completely ignored the young woman in a red robe standing not far away from the stairs as he reached bottom. He strode past her and looked down the hall. He saw Danny next to the men who he sent to go down the other side of the hall…one seemed to be dead and the other, while alive, didn’t look much better. In his furiously racing mind the bleeding enforcer managed to put two and two together…whatever was going on, that Chinaman was a part of this! Danny noticed him from the far end as the man raised his gun. The bleeding enforcer wanted to scream, “Kung-Fu THIS, motherfucker!”
He never had the chance because Delilah, still standing behind him, had lifted the piece of metal the man didn’t see into view. The .41 Magnum, previously the property of TBone, which Yuki had given to the dancer earlier. Delilah switched the weapon to her right hand, pointed it at the man’s back, and without hesitation fired five times. All five heavy-caliber bullets found a home. One glanced off his right shoulder blade, exiting as quickly as it entered and taking a chunk of flesh with it, and another smashed into his right elbow, destroying it. The other three bullets had more fortune. One cleaved into the man’s lower spine, another into his left kidney, and the last shot drilled into the back of his neck, exiting mushroomed and at dramatically decreased velocity through his throat in a gory explosion of blood. He was dead before he fell on his face.
The guy with the crushed windpipe on the far side finally did the same.
Yuki stepped into the hallway, as stained in blood as her sword. Danny and Delilah converged on her…the man in the cream-colored suit asked, “What happens next?”


Yuki’s power flowed from her like ripples in a pond. Ripples of eldritch energy given form and purpose by her will. The energy reached out, hungrily sought to find what she wished for it to devour. Time was a critical factor, and she found it ironic considering that before she came to this world, time held literally no meaning…she had to earn as much time as possible to do what was necessary. Yuki had to be ruthless and efficient in all things for her enemies would be legion and she and her servants needed every advantage possible. It was her way, the only way she had known for as long as she could remember, which was a very, very long time. Hers was a way forged in realms beyond shadow, where indescribable tortures and unspeakable evils reigned.
Those of this world had taken so much for granted. Among them were the gifts they gave themselves…the technology that drove this world, drove their very lives. That which ran by electrical currents and digital code. Those gifts were marvels to be sure, but those who lived in this world, especially God’s Country, seemed to forget what it meant to subsist without such things.
And they were ill-prepared for what would happen if those gifts were taken away.
Yuki’s enemies would have been taking advantage of such things, as well. One way or the other, they would inevitably discover what she had done. She had no illusions that they would not soon enough know about her. War was inevitable, it could not unfold any other way, but she could at least delay it for as long as possible until she was truly ready. And so she let her power reach out…
…and it nullified the circuits of every telephone…the batteries of every cellular phone…every hard drive of every computer and laptop in the Hot Biscuit that could be used to communicate to the outside world. Her power reached out further, for she wished to take no chances, and it nullified the computer and electrical systems of the vehicles of those who patronized and worked in the club. Time was all-important, not simply to delay her enemies’ discovery of what she had done, but to give Yuki and her servants time enough to find sanctuary, to begin to gather an army that would serve her.
Yuki knew exactly where to go next…but first things first.
“I wish to change my clothes,” Yuki said.
“I’ll take you to the dressing room upstairs,” Delilah said. “You’ll definitely find something there.”
Danny asked, “What about the others upstairs? They may not have the situation contained.”
“I have faith in them,” Yuki responded. “It will be well.”


Mad Dawg and T-Bone did succeed. Barely. For a few moments it was like something out of one of those first-person shooter video games T-Bone loved to play. The gangstas had to scramble on all fours in opposite directions as bullets tore through the leather and upholstery of the sofa they found cover behind. Bullets zinged just above them as they each found new cover, and they got back into it. Two more enforcers died, which left a young turk who looked like something out of one of those damn pop-idol boy bands Mad Dawg hated so much. It turned out the little dumbass ran out of bullets. Dawg was tempted to shoot him anyway since he looked so much like Justin Timberlake, but he remembered what Yuki told them: “If any present a threat, kill them. But if they surrender, let them live. When you are done, do not let anyone leave this place.”
Back in the short entrance hall, an emergency door opened and Donnie poked his head out nervously. He was acting as a scout for Lee and the cashier, a young blonde woman, who both hid behind the door. Donnie hadn’t heard any shooting for about a minute, and figured maybe the coast was clear. He turned away from the hall to Lee and the cashier. “I think it’s okay,” he hissed. “Let’s go!” But when he turned to look into the hall again, he found a Beretta pointed between his eyes.
On the other end was T-Bone, smiling. He said, “Howdy, campers!”


The dancers were, to a woman, scared shitless.
They had been forced to gather in one corner of the dressing room, most of them still naked, by Delilah at gunpoint. A deadly glare from Danny Choi had helped her and her magnum keep them there. As they kept the dancers under control, Yuki quickly washed her face and changed her clothes in the nearby bathroom. She found a new set of clothes that would have to do: a jet-black sleeved stocking dress. There was nothing else less garish…or more conservative. She flatly disregarded the fuck-me shoes with the ridiculously high heels owned by the same dancer, preferring for the time being to go barefoot.
Yuki looked at herself once again in the mirror, made sure her face and hair were clean of blood so as not to attract unwanted attention. A part of her wondered why she bothered. She would ensure that much more blood would be spilled, and very soon. So much blood it would flow like a river.
They left the dressing room and locked the dancers inside. Delilah carried Yuki’s sword and Danny hauled a loaded trash bag as they walked behind Yuki into the showroom. T-Bone and Mad Dawg had everyone in the place seated on the edge of the massive stage, under their guns. Mad Dawg was finishing giving the collective orders, as Yuki asked him to do before they arrived. “We’re gonna leave, and you may be tempted to try to call fuckin’ 911 or some shit! A word to the wise, motherfuckers: DON’T! Don’t try to fuckin’ call anybody, don’t any of you try to fuckin’ LEAVE this place screamin’ like pussies! We got ourselves homeboys out there, and they’re what you’d call layin’ in fuckin’ wait! They’re waitin’ fo’ us to go, and after we do they’re gonna wait two hours! Two hours so we get away and out of your lives! If ANY of you bastards try ANYTHING, you try to go ANYWHERE to call the five-oh or Roccoli’s boys, ANY fucking body FOR THE NEXT TWO HOURS, my boys WILL catch you, and they’ll walk your dumb ass back in and EXECUTE YOU ALL WITH EXTREME FUCKIN’ PREJUDICE!” Mad Dawg looked at Yuki, who glanced at the sole surviving enforcer and then gave the gangsta a slight nod. Dawg then shouted, “And how they gonna fuckin’ do it? Just like THIS!”
Without warning, Dawg walked up to the nearby turk they had spared minutes before, put his gun to the young man’s temple, and blew his brains out. The gangsta scanned the horrified faces of the assembled hostages. He concluded, “And THAT, assholes, is a picture that says a thousand words!”
Yuki and her servants left the club. No one they left behind followed. None of them had even dared to move…for two hours, anyway.
Outside, the group joined Ace and Bennie J. Danny looked at Bennie, who was still in the 300C’s back seat. He lifted the trash bag to the window and said to the skinny gangsta, “I think this is yours.”
Bennie thought excitedly, My shit! Finally he had his clothes back…but the moment he opened the bag, he saw they were returned to him covered in blood. Even his Nikes. He groaned, “Aw hell, no!”
Yuki said to Danny, “I will need you to drive me in your vehicle.” She turned to the others. “Follow us.”
Then she told them where they would be going.


It was just after 1:30 A.M. in the morning after Good Friday…at that time, it didn’t take long to reach Ladue.
Less than 10 miles from the city of St. Louis, Ladue was the most affluent suburban community in the county, and held 22.2 square miles of the most valuable real estate in Missouri. Home values and the incomes of its residents were stratospherically above the state average, of course. There was a rarified, prosaic quality to life in Ladue, without any doubt. In fact, its city leaders prided themselves in providing its residents the most tranquil and serene environment possible.
Of course, some things could be provided…that did not necessarily mean that such things were guaranteed.
Ladue was home to some of the most powerful people in the state. Some were well known…others not. All held great influence over the way things were in the heart of God’s Country. Not far from Tilles Park, in the middle of an expanse of neatly manicured, jade-green acreage, was the massive home of one such man…unlike his neighbors, however, he not only prided himself in his relative lack of celebrity, he found it was essential so as not to be under greater scrutiny than he already was by law enforcement agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the ATF, and the St. Louis County Police Department.
His name was Nico Roccoli, also known as Boss Roccoli to his allies and enemies both in the heart of God’s Country and throughout the international underworld. Nico was the Don, the Capo Crimini of Missouri and Illinois, the most powerful American Mafia boss in the Midwest. Publicly, he was a humble businessman and philanthropist, a classic American success story of a second-generation Italian-American born of immigrant parents from the old country. The truth, however, was diametrically opposite to the public image.
Nico Roccoli’s parents were immigrants, that much was true. But where his mother was a quiet, graceful woman, his father was something else. He was a ruthless soldati and assassin who was sent by the Mafia in Italy to support the operations of some of their favored associates in the American side of their cabal. His one saving grace was his love for family, and after his wife gave birth to Nico he wanted to ensure that his son had a better life than he did. Actually, in a perverted way, Nico was a classic American success story…but one the founders of God’s Country wouldn’t have wished to imagine. Nico was raised to become a contradiction, much like his peers in organized crime: he was a God-fearing man who attended church on a regular basis and had the utmost respect for the principles of family, loyalty and country. At the same time, however, he grew to be a cunning manipulator and leader, and absolutely merciless in the face of anyone who attempted to oppose him. Nico Roccoli’s base of operations and domain were, technically speaking, supposed to be limited to both St. Louis and its neighbor across the Mississippi in the Land of Lincoln, East St. Louis. But he had garnered so much power and gained such favor from his fellow Dons that he would become on an unspoken but unmistakable level the highest figure in organized crime in both states.
It had been a long Good Friday for both Nico Roccoli and his son, Guido Roccoli, who followed in his father’s footsteps. It was not out of nepotism Guido rose to become his father’s second-in-command, his Capo Bastone or Underboss, but because he was a truly apt pupil of the lessons his father had taught him. He had risen in the ranks because of his own merits, and anyone who would have questioned that might as well have questioned his father’s authority…an all-around bad idea that one would not have lived to regret. They had spent most of the day in Jefferson City, the state capitol, coordinating the long-term efforts of the labor union political action committees under the Roccoli family’s payroll, and how they could manipulate the voting decisions of key members of the state government. Both men were still awake in Nico’s home, still dressed for business, ironing out preparations for doing the same in Illinois on Monday.
Neither father nor son could have known their plans, both long and short-range, would soon be changed. Permanently.


The capo in command of security for Nico Roccoli’s home stood on the circular drive in front, bored out of his mind in spite of his responsibility. He commanded a dozen soldiers who patrolled the outside of the estate…command of the guards providing internal security was left to Guido while he was there. When the vehicles arrived at the main gate, his boredom faded quickly. He stepped forward toward the gate to get a good look, as many of the guards under his command began to gather behind him, curious.
The captain got close enough to the gate to identify the vehicles through the glare of their headlights. The first vehicle he instantly recognized, a blue Mitsubishi Eclipse that sat low to the macadam like a metal scarab. He knew it belonged to Danny Choi, but he was supposed to be at the strip club that Pucci managed. The vehicle behind it was more than twice as big as the Eclipse, a white Cadillac Escalade SUV. He knew its owner, Ace, who also worked at the club. (He heard once that there were times that dogs and their owners looked alike…he thought with a grin that rule almost applied to the big Jew and his truck.) The third car he didn’t recognize, a red Chrysler that looked like it got in an accident somewhere.
He got out his cell and speed-dialed Guido. After a moment, he heard his voice: “Tommy? Is there a problem?”
The capo, Tommy Falco, responded, “We got visitors pullin’ up to the gate, Guido.” As a general rule of thumb, Guido preferred to be called by his first name by his subordinates, since everybody already referred to his father as Mister Roccoli.
“We’re not expecting anybody, not at this time of the night. Who is it?”
“One of them’s Danny Choi, and he ain’t alone. He’s got Ace from the Biscuit, and…” Squinting through the contrasts between darkness and light, Tommy finally recognized the occupants of the third car. “Damn, it’s those three black jabronis who were supposed to deliver to Pucci. Something’s up, Guido.”
Guido’s retort was scornful, like Tommy should have known better than to be cautious. “What, you’re worried about Danny, of all people? It’s gotta be important if he’s coming to see us, so let him in!”
“Gotcha, I’m opening the gate.” Tommy hung up his cell and got out a remote for the gate. With a press of a button it creaked open, and the three vehicles casually entered the drive. They stopped a short distance from the main entrance of the mansion, one behind the other. Twelve enforcers gathered around and behind Tommy, and waited with him to see what the deal was. The occupants exited their vehicles.
The first thing Tommy noticed out of the ordinary had to do with the Asian chick in black who was riding with Danny. Besides the fact she wasn’t wearing any shoes, it had to do with the woman herself. She was gorgeous to look at, no doubt, but she looked…hard at the same time. Like a diamond. Then everybody else came into view…well, almost everyone. One of the brothers stayed in the red 300C for some reason, left behind by his two running buddies. And when Ace got out of his SUV, another pretty lady got out of the passenger side, but she didn’t look as tough as the chick in black. In fact… What, is she just wearing a robe? On the heels of that thought Tommy asked himself, Didn’t I see her dance at the Biscuit a coupla times? And she seemed to be holding…a sword in its scabbard. Horizontally, with both hands. Almost reverently.
Okay, something’s a little off about this shit, Tommy realized, and got more than a little disquieted. That sensation increased when he saw that everybody, even Danny, seemed to be following the lead of the lady in black. Sure enough, they gathered around her…and then she proceeded toward Tommy and the rest of the guards, with the others behind her. She was calling the shots, he realized…for what, he had no fucking clue.
When they stopped several feet from the guards, the woman in the black dress turned to Danny. She gave him a nod, and he came up next to her. The man in the cream-colored suit said, “Hello, Tommy.”
The capo, on-edge: “Danny, this better be serious to come callin’ in the morning like this!”
“It is, Tommy. We need to see Mister Roccoli.”
Tommy’s disquiet graduated to something bordering on nervousness. Oh yeah, something’s fucking wrong, all right.
Before he could respond to Danny’s request, one of his subordinates tried to do it for him. An enforcer stepped up next to Tommy, a turk with his natural brunette hair frosted blonde, trying to be stylish. His words were laced with self-importance, and more than a little hostility. “What d’you wanna see him for, Danny?” He gave a hard glance to Mad Dawg and T-Bone and pointed at them. “And what’d you bring those gangstas for?”
Tommy did a slow burn at the arrogant punk. “Hey Mike, silenzio.” Back to Danny: “Did they deliver to Tony like they were supposed to?” He spared a look at the lady in black. Her expression showed nothing. Absolutely nothing. Tommy was officially nervous.
Danny shook his head in response. “Tony is dead. We need to see Mister Roccoli right away.”
Mike blurted, “What the fuck happened to Mister Pucci?!”
Danny, strangely calm: “We’ll let Mister Roccoli know about that. But first, we need to see him. Right away.”
Tommy suddenly felt anger burn inside…he wasn’t just going to settle for that. He sure as hell wasn’t going to just let any of these people get any closer to Mister Roccoli. “No, Danny! First you tell us what the hell happened to Tony and why! Then we’ll relay your info, and then Mister Roccoli will decide if he’ll see you or not!”
Mad Dawg snorted a laugh. “Fuckers think they’re playing in The Godfather, man.”
Mike caught that, and shouted, “Yo, Negro! You shut the fuck up!
Tommy looked hard at Danny…and then at the woman in black. “What the hell did you bring all of these people for, Danny? And who’s this lady?”
Then Yuki stepped forward…she was growing impatient with this man Tommy. She said to him, “I must speak to your employer.”
Mike launched forward, closing within two feet of Yuki. “He’s not talkin’ to you, bitch! And you’d better step the hell back!” She looked at the impertinent turk like he was an ugly breed of bug. Mike grinned in response: “Oh, you got a problem with me, bitch?”
Yuki’s smile was cold. “No problem at all.” Mike lost his grin. Fast.
“Mike.” Danny, clearly defensive of Yuki. “You will not talk to her that way.”
Tommy seemed to have lost whatever patience he had. His expression grew deadly serious as he took a step back from the visitors. The rest of the guards had similar expressions, glancing at Tommy, ready to go with whatever he decided. “Tell us what happened to Tony, Danny. Tell us what you brought this lady here for. I mean it.” Tommy touched the lapel of his suit jacket…underneath that jacket he had an H&K MP5K on a shoulder rig, and he was sorely tempted to get it out. The enforcers under his command held similar weaponry he could have them bring out and use on command.
Danny spoke like he knew what Tommy was thinking. “None of us are armed, Tommy. You won’t need your guns. Besides, you wouldn’t want to use what you have here…now, at this time of the night.”
Mike, not taking his eyes of Yuki, nodded and reached under his jacket as he snarled, “Actually, that’s not a bad fucking idea – !”
Tommy shouted, “Mike, shut your goddamn mouth!” Mike, his eyes burning at Yuki, dropped his hand from his jacket. Unlike Mike his captain realized that it was, beyond a shadow of a doubt, a VERY bad fucking idea to use their guns here, and cursed himself for not taking the precaution of equipping his men with silencers for their weapons. (He didn’t believe it was necessary until these people arrived…hell, who’d try to make a play against the Don in Ladue?) The last thing Mister Roccoli needed was for the Ladue Police Department to respond to 911 calls from the neighbors that they heard gunshots. Tommy looked back at Danny. “Tell us what happened to Tony!”
Danny shook his head. “We will tell Mister Roccoli.”
Tommy, adamant: “No, you won’t.”
Yuki never stopped looking at Mike as she said simply, “Yes. We will.”
Mike finally had all he could take. He started to snarl at her, “Fuckin’ bitch – !”
But the turk didn’t realize that Yuki had endured all she could take from him. With hideous speed, her right hand shot forward in a fist and punched Mike in the face. He stumbled backward, blood from his very broken nose flowing from it as if from twin faucet taps, and he fell to the pavement.
For the rest of the guards, that was it. Many of them started to reach under their jackets for their artillery. Artillery without silencers, Tommy knew, and he shouted at them, “No fuckin’ guns, goddammit!” The guards restrained themselves…barely.
Danny knew he was tempting certain death…but he didn’t care. None of Yuki’s servants cared, as they simply stood there behind her. They were here for her, come what may. Tommy was slowly starting to figure that out as he looked at Yuki and the others with a volatile mix of confusion and barely-restrained rage. Whoever this bitch is, Tommy thought, she won’t take no for an answer, one way or the other. But she ain’t suicidal, she…she’s fuckin’ committed to seein’ Mister Roccoli. And fuckin’ Danny’s backin’ her up all the way, even if it means he’ll die. So are Ace and the rest.
With that recognition of the truth, Tommy grunted and said, “It’s okay. We won’t need guns to keep you from goin’ inside. Boys?” His guards stepped forward and formed something of a scrimmage line, a living barrier between Yuki, Danny and the others and the oak front doors of the Roccoli Residence. “And you know there’s more inside, ready to go on your asses when I say the word. Even without guns, Danny…these aren’t good odds.”
Danny nodded. “For you? You’re right.” And then the man in the cream-colored suit surprised Tommy and his underlings: he took a few steps back…as Yuki stepped forward towards the guards.
One of the enforcers couldn’t help but ask: “What? Just her?!”
Tommy couldn’t believe it. This bitch honestly thinks she can get through us?! Maybe in a Jackie Chan flick, but not here!
But Yuki begged to differ. She said, “I will speak to your employer.” She might as well have told them the sun would rise later in the morning.
Tommy shook his head. “I don’t think so. Ladies’ first, boys!” Cautiously, the scrimmage line turned into something of a horseshoe formation as the guards stepped closer to Yuki. Tommy’s eyes never left hers when he said to them, “Don’t do anything to make her scream, though. We don’t wanna wake the neighbors.” He smiled, as if he just made a joke.
Yuki gave him a smile in return…but there was no humor in it.
A couple of the guards got impatient and rushed her, one gaining ground on the other as if they were in a race. Yuki showed them the finish line: she whirled and planted a spinning side kick into the one in the lead with such ferocious power he might as well have been hit by a truck. He flew backward into the other man, and both crumpled to the ground.
That was when the nine remaining guards under Tommy’s command rushed her, as well. And they began falling before Yuki. Hard.
As Tommy watched all of this, anger gave way for revived fear…but this time, it wasn’t fear of what he didn’t know, of what he couldn’t have expected when Danny seemed to be led by this woman in black. No. This fear was worse: this was the fear one knew when confronted by the sudden unveiling of a threat that just grabbed you by the balls with the grip of a vise and wouldn’t let go. Fear born from seeing the men under your command, not all of them buddies, but guys you knew had been around the block, who had seen their fair share of rough and tumble, experienced soldati who were picked for securing your fucking Don…and they were having their heads handed to them with no effort whatsoever by a beauty who was a diamond. Fuck martial arts movies, this woman was something else…something Tommy could barely even call human as one of his guards, a man over three-hundred pounds in weight, got kicked under the chin and the capo heard a muffled crack! from the impact and he knew the big goombah’s jaw got broken, and he lifted off the ground over a foot high and almost out of his fucking shoes like he was traveling by the space shuttle. When the numbers of his men were reduced to two, two men who looked at their fellow enforcers lying on the ground like heaps and then at the woman, Tommy knew from their expressions they were probably thinking of going to work in a safer environment. Maybe Iran.
Tommy fearfully took a few steps back and almost tripped over Mike, who was still on the ground. He had tried to get up, though, and Tommy felt a little ill when he saw Mike’s nose was still bleeding like a gusher, had bled all over the front of his suit and shirt, turning it a nasty shade of red. His face was red, too, full of incredulous rage. Mike tried to speak, but he had a hard time of it as he said, “Bidgg…brog muh fuggin’ NOZ!” (Translation: Bitch…broke my fuckin’ NOSE!)
Mike reached into his jacket to whip out his Micro Uzi, but Tommy stopped him with a murderous look. Not one out of anger of his own…but pure desperation. He said coldly, “You fire that gun, Mike, I swear I’ll fuckin’ shoot you myself!” With frantic haste he used his cell phone again as his remaining men cautiously advanced on Yuki, but this time he didn’t wait for his Capo Bastone to answer the moment he picked up. “Guido! Guido, we got a goddamn situation down here!”


Inside the mansion on the second floor Guido Roccoli, 38 years old, the second most powerful Mafioso in the heart of God’s Country, almost looked at his cell when he heard the fear in the voice of the lead of security outside. Tension drew within him as he asked, “What the fuck are you talking about, Tommy?”
“This woman’s killing us! We need more men out here!” Tommy cried on the other end, “Holy shit, we need more fuckin’ men!” Then Guido lost the connection.
Woman?! Guido was his father’s son: he rarely reacted impulsively, and never out of a sense of fear. Still, he whirled around and looked out the study room window that overlooked the circular drive…and he couldn’t believe what he saw. All twelve of their guys outside were lying on the ground, out of commission, and he was just in time to see a woman swat Tommy with a fierce backhand that drove him to the ground. He didn’t get back up. Then Guido saw the bitch turn and look right at…Danny Choi. And a bunch of people with him.
Six years ago, when his father Nico hired on Danny as an enforcer, Guido backed the decision. It put the noses of some of the paisans out of joint, but of course they knew better than to openly question pop. Ever. Of course he didn’t have any Italian blood in him, that wasn’t the point. The point of hiring Danny Choi was that he was the toughest son of a bitch he or his dad ever heard of. Even though he knew he’d never be anything close to a capo, he was a strong arm to have around. And what the hell, this is fuckin’ America, right? Everybody’s equal, right? Ever since, the Roccoli family never had any reason to regret or even second-guess their decision to hire the guy.
Until the moment Guido watched the fucker just stand there after this woman tore through his men…what the hell did she do to them? He watched for a few seconds as the woman in black said something to Danny…and then she went straight for the front doors.
Guido couldn’t help but ask out loud, “What the hell?” Not far away at a huge cedar desk was his silver-haired father, Nico Roccoli, the undisputed Don of the region. In his early seventies he looked like an aging businessman…but one only had to look in his hard eyes to see there were many more years left in the man’s life. One only had to look in his eyes to see the cool, calculating mind and strength of will that helped him not only survive the world of organized crime, but prosper in a way only a relative handful of his peers had. When he saw his son turn from the window to one of the enforcers in the room serving internal security with a look bordering on fear, however, his survival instincts kicked in once again.
Guido shouted at the soldati, “Sal, go downstairs and get everybody together, and put silencers on your fuckin’ guns! GO!” Without a word, Sal did as he was told and exited.

Guido stalked to a nearby bureau and opened the top drawer. He pulled out a deadly black silenced Steyer AUG machinegun. The four remaining enforcers in the room pulled out matching SMGs from their jackets, ready to kill something.
Nico asked, “Guido, what’s happening?” He had already made an effort to anticipate the answer, of course, but it didn’t make sense. Is this a hit? A hit in fucking Ladue, of all places?!?
Guido racked the bolt of his carbine and looked at the guards around his father. “All you guys, stay with pop! I’m gonna get this shit taken care of.”
“Like hell!” Nico didn’t want his only son to put himself at risk. Not for him. “It there’s trouble, boy, then you’re staying with me!”
Guido’s grip tightened on his bullpup-configured weapon. He had never disobeyed his father before, ever…but there had to be a first time for everything. “Pop, I gotta! I won’t let ’em get to you, I swear it on my life!” He rushed toward the study room’s door without another word.
The Don called out to him, “Guido?! GUIDO!” But his son didn’t acknowledge him as he left. Nico punched the top of his desk with a trembling fist. Trembling with helpless anger.


Nico stood behind his desk, with four of his best soldiers around him, their weapons at the ready. As he listened, as he waited…as he prayed to God like he never had in church that his son would come through all right…he heard the sounds of the battle downstairs.
But it was the absence of sound that was the worst part of it. It was necessary, of course, that if anyone had to use their weapons on the estate, they had to be silenced. Because of that, unfortunately, Nico couldn’t tell what exactly was happening. Up close, when a weapon is fired, one can still hear the barely-suppressed shot fired through a so-called ‘silencer’. Upstairs, at a distance from whatever was happening downstairs, all that could be heard was the results of such weapons being used. He heard the breaking of ceramic…the crisp and urgent sound of bullets impacting into wood…glass shattering. At interims, however, other noises could be heard…heavy impacts, like meat had been dropped on the floor. Yells of warning…at one point he heard from downstairs, “Ray, where are you?! Did you get her?!” Then a scream cut short, from the same voice. Then he heard his son’s voice as he yelled, “THERE! SHOOT!” A sudden cascade of destructive sound.
It stopped, and another voice was heard, fearful: “Jesus, Guido, she’s too fucking FAST!” He was relieved to hear his son shout, “You gonna turn pussy on me now?! If you’re gonna, don’t worry about her! You’ll have to deal with ME! MOVE!” A few moments later, a third voice in pure terror: “Holy SHIT!” Overlapping it was his son once again: “FIRE, GODDAMMIT!” An explosion of more noise, unknowable in context…and it faded to nothing too damn soon. Nothing.
The absence of sound, like one would find in a church. Or a graveyard.
For a few minutes of time, it stayed that way.
Nico Roccoli had enough. He grunted to his men, “We’re going down there. Right now.”
One of the men tentatively said, “Boss…you shouldn’t go down there.”
The Don nodded. He didn’t care. “My son’s waiting for me, boys. I want to go see him. Right now.”
Then: stumbling footsteps were heard, distant. Coming up the steps…then down the hall. Toward the study room. Toward Nico.
And Guido entered, with a woman dragging him in front of her. She held one arm behind his back, and her other arm was wrapped around his throat. All four soldiers around Nico brought up their guns, ready to fire. The woman kicked the back of one of Guido’s legs behind the knee, forcing him into a kneeling position on the carpet. She smoothly let go of both his arm and neck and placed her hands on the sides of his head, took hold of it and almost covered his face. She gave a slow twist that made Guido yell out in pain. She was ready to break his neck.
Nico, for his part, was stunned. “Guido – !”
“Pop,” Guido said in a strangled voice. “Pop…I-I’m sorry!” With desperate eyes, he looked at the guards. “She…she ain’t packin’! Just fuckin’ shoot!”
But Guido was in a bad position, all things considered, and the soldiers knew it. They couldn’t fire without risking hitting him. One of them spared a glance at Nico, uncertain. “Mister Roccoli?”
Then Yuki spoke to the father of the man at her mercy. “I need a moment of your time. That is all I want.”
Boss Roccoli stiffened and flushed with barely-contained fury. “You want some time with me. For what, your fucking funeral? That’s exactly what you’ve got, lady.” The woman looked Japanese, he thought. Yakuza, maybe?
Then she said something that caught Nico off-guard: “I am not here to harm you or your son. I have something to show you.”
Nico’s mind raced. What the hell does she want from me? The fact he had the queerest feeling in his entire life…the feeling she was looking not just at him, but into him…didn’t help matters. He finally said, “Let my son go. If you’re here to deal with me…then you goddamn well deal with me. I will not see my son hurt by anybody while I live.”
Guido, genuinely afraid for his father: “Pop…”
“You insist on believing I am here to harm you,” Yuki said. “Be assured: if I wanted you dead, you would be. I only need a moment to show you something. That is all. No tricks. You and your son will not be harmed, I give you my word of honor.”
The Don’s eyes narrowed at that last statement. “I don’t even know you, lady. And you want me to trust you.”
Danny Choi stepped into the room behind Yuki and Guido. “You can trust her, Mister Roccoli.”
Guido’s lips peeled back in a snarl hearing his voice. His father’s reaction wasn’t much better when he realized…but it was restrained. “I once trusted you, Danny.”
“You still can, sir,” the enforcer said. “But Yuki requires you.”
Nico looked back at the woman. “Yuki,” he said. She nodded. “What the fuck do you need me for? At least spell that out.”
Yuki’s next words didn’t make much sense to the Capo Crimini: “Even if I had shown your son, even if he had supported me, you would not have believed. You would not even have believed your own blood. It is not something that can be told to you in words. You must see.”
Nico Roccoli gave it a moment of thought…and in the end he did understand, whatever this lady had to show him, if it meant his son wouldn’t be harmed… “All right. But any tricks, and you’re dead. One word from me, and you’re both dead.”
“Very well,” Yuki said, and she let go of his son. He awkwardly got up off his knees and stepped away from her quickly. He was sorely tempted to order dad’s soldiers to cap her anyway, but:
“Stay back, Guido,” Nico said, stepping slowly toward the woman. “I don’t know what her game is…but I’m gonna find out.”
Guido was dubious. “Pop, I don’t like this shit – !”
“Just…stay back.” Boss Roccoli turned to his enforcers. “Remember: I say the word, kill them.”
Nico and Yuki converged in front of his desk. She stepped up to him until she was only barely more than a foot away. Guido tensed up…he knew she could do anything to his father from that kind of distance, but a warning glance from Nico kept him where he was.
Then Nico looked at Yuki. She looked back at him…and into his eyes. Nico looked back into hers, not understanding what the hell she meant by showing him something, telling him she had something for him to see. He opened his mouth to say as much –
And then it happened.
His mouth stayed open as he looked into Yuki’s deep brown eyes…his own eyes showed surprise and total confusion. His jaw worked slowly…unsure…and then he managed to say, “What…what in the name of…?”
Guido, with alarm: “Pop?”
Surprise and confusion turned to fear. His head shook very slowly…fear deepened for Nico until it became a numbing terror so profound it seemed to palpably hang about his being like a shroud. “Oh, my God…oh…”
His son shouted, “Pop?!?”
“Oh,” the Don moaned, and his expression seemed to…break. He trembled; his entire body trembled as if there was a quaking in his very soul. His eyes became as big as saucers and flooded with tears, portals to unthinkable, terrible agony. Agony he gave voice: “Oh…oh, Jesus fucking…CHRIST! I-I-I…” Yuki placed her hands on both sides of his face, her eyes never leaving his. “IT CAN’T…OH GOD, IT CAN’T…uuaa-AAAHHH!” Nico fell to his knees, but Yuki stayed with him. Her eyes never left his.
Guido was losing it. “Pop?!? POP!” The enforcers didn’t know what to do. They didn’t understand. They couldn’t. Danny simply watched, patient.
And then Nico Roccoli, Boss Roccoli, the undisputed Don of Missouri and Illinois…broke down into tears. Tears fell down his cheeks, and he wrapped his arms around his torso, as if in pain.
“Okay, that’s fucking it!” Guido knew nothing but total rage. He screamed at the soldiers, “FUCKING KILL THIS BITCH! NOW!”
Nico cried out, “NO!” He looked at his son. “Nobody…nobody touches her! Put your guns away…all of you.” Guido and the enforcers could only look at him, stunned. “I fucking mean it, PUT AWAY THE GODDAMN GUNS! Nobody hurts her…NOBODY!” Nico began to break down again, but he repeated, “Nobody…no-nobody…”
Guido looked at his father helplessly. Reluctantly, completely confused, the enforcers slowly holstered their guns. They didn’t understand…they couldn’t, not at that moment. But that would soon change.
Yuki gently prodded the sobbing Don’s chin to tilt upward, so he would look at her. She said, “I require you. I need you. Will you serve me?”
Guido could only look at his father as he said with desperation, “Y-yes…anything for you, anything. Anything you want, I’ll give it to you. I-if you want me to, I’ll die for you. I-I’ll die for you…I…” He fell to sobs once again, overwhelmed.
Yuki then embraced the most powerful organized crime figure in the American Midwest as he wept.
Her next words were spoken softly: “I believe you.”

This story is the copyright (2006) of Charles Spencer, and is the sole property of the author. No part of this story may be reproduced or transmitted, by electronic means or otherwise, without the express permission of the author.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

"HELL KNIGHT" Chapter Two: In The Club


It took about half an hour of driving by Interstate 70 to reach the Hot Biscuit.
It was a strip club located in St. Bethany on Cedar Road, just a stone’s throw away from Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. Like the riverboat casinos about fifteen more minutes west on the Missouri River, the Hot Biscuit attracted a great many customers. Unlike the riverboats, the owners and upper management of the club were among the cogs and gears that kept the machine of organized crime working in the American Midwest.
Organized crime in the states of Missouri and Illinois in the heart of God’s Country, like virtually every civilized country, reaped a profit from a multitude of enterprises…many on their face seemingly legitimate. Other enterprises, of course, could only be conducted away from daylight, with ruthlessness and practiced deception. Whatever an accountant with the morals of a rabid wolf couldn’t think of, those who had experience in the less sublime arts of coercion, corruption and brutality could; if executed smartly and with enough stealth, they would at least for a time stay beyond the reach of the law. Loan sharking, prostitution, trafficking of controlled substances, extortion…all standard practices for organized crime long before Al Capone fired his first bullet.
Organized crime, no matter where it flourished on Earth, had always been a machine. It was operated by the worst instincts of some, and was fueled by the weakest inclinations of others. It could make its home in places both unsurprising and unexpected. Naturally, that was often open to subjective opinion. That’s why some would have been surprised and others would not have to find that organized crime controlled a strip club, used it as a way station for trafficking narcotics.
The only things in the Hot Biscuit that would have been considered legal were the liquor and the dancers…of course, many of the girls were barely so.


The red 300C pulled into the lot next to the club. A large blonde man with a white shirt and jeans who resembled a refrigerator was waiting for them, and pointed them to one of the parking spaces directly next to the long building marked PRIVATE in yellow stencil. The lot wasn’t quite filled to capacity like a usual Friday night. The big man figured nobody wanted to feel guilty for going to get their rocks off on the day the Son of God died. Since he was Jewish, he didn’t care whether he was right or not.
Mad Dawg and T-Bone stepped out…and so did a woman also dressed in their colors. Dawg nodded to him. “’Sup, Ace.”
The big man, Ace, simply said, “You’re ten minutes late, guys. Tony don’t like to wait.”
T-Bone shrugged. “Fuckin’ traffic, man.”
“Uh-huh.” Ace’s eyes narrowed as he looked at the woman. These homeboys were just supposed to make a delivery. “Who’s this?”
“New girl for the club,” Mad Dawg lied. “We’re gonna take her to see Tony.”
“Since when were you gangstas talent scouts?” Ace couldn’t help but look at the woman. She didn’t hurt the eyes, that was for damn sure…but something about her set him on edge. There was something about the hardened set of her face…and in her eyes.
This lady’s here for something, Ace mused, something pretty damn important. But if she’s here to dance, then I’m Janet Jackson.
Then he noticed that Dawg and T-Bone’s running buddy, Beenie or Bennie or whatever his name was, was still in their car. He did a double-take, and he realized he wasn’t wearing any clothes. Ace then knew for a fact something was off…way off.
“Sorry, guys,” Ace said, suddenly pure business. “One of you can take the delivery in like usual, but this lady stays outside.”
Yuki reflected once again on the conversation she had with the homeboys on the way here:
Yuki asked at one point, “What kind of security will be present at this location?”
Mad Dawg: “Mostly security cameras. They got monitors to watch them in a room next to the cashier’s window.”
“Mostly. Is anyone outside to enforce the perimeter?”
Bennie J didn’t get the ‘perimeter’ part, but he understood what she was asking: “Jus’ this big white guy named Ace. He packs a .357 Magnum under his shirt. Always wears the same fuckin’ thing.”
“He is the only security outside? That is foolish.”
T-Bone: “Yeah, but wit’ their cameras coverin’ the lot and the front and back doors, they’ll know if somethin’s up right away, whether Ace calls them or not. Inside’s where the
real security is, anyway. For Fridays, Tony Pucci’s always got a dozen guys, all packin’. But honestly, they’re nothin’ compared to Danny.”
“Who is Danny?”
Mad Dawg: “Danny Choi, Yuki. He’s death on a fuckin’ stick, and that’s the
truth. When you get inside, watch out for him, girl. You gotta be real careful wit’ him.”
“Really? Tell me more.”
And they did, but Yuki was not concerned with Danny Choi at that moment. What mattered was how to deal with this man Ace so he would not alert anyone inside. It seemed she would have to make him see, just as she did with the gangstas.
What had to be dealt with first were the outer security cameras; for certain, whoever watched the monitors that received the images they sent could see her and the others with Ace. The only thing that could be done was to blind the eyes watching from inside. Yuki looked upward and saw one of the cameras, positioned on a corner of the club’s rooftop shrouded by a circular casing, much of it opaque glass. She reached out with her unworldly senses once again, just as she did at the pawn shop, and felt the camera and the energy coursing through it.
“Aw c’mon, Ace,” T-Bone said. “Pucci’s gonna be impressed with what this girl’s gonna have to show him, guaranteed. That ain’t no lie, man.”
Ace wasn’t impressed. At all. “I said forget it. You or your buddy here can take in what Pucci’s waiting for, but she stays outside. You know the rules. If the boss doesn’t clear you in advance or if you’re not a V.I.P., then you don’t go in. Period.”
With her face still cast upward, Yuki closed her eyes. She found the digital signal being sent from the camera and her senses flowed with it. She followed the line of transmission to an array of hard drives in the club’s basement, which also received data from the rest of the cameras. The drives not only served as an operating system, but recorded the data of both the exterior and interior cameras. The drives then sent the data through a sequencer to the monitors that would no doubt be watched by living eyes.
Ace looked hard at Yuki…she appeared to be in a trance or something. Mad Dawg said, “Ace, my man, how’s the lady gonna meet Pucci and show him what she can do havin’ to wait for a fuckin’ appointment?”
“It’s not my job to give a shit about her having to wait or not,” Ace said, and started to lose his patience. “He only sees new talent during the day, and you should know that, too.”
T-Bone wouldn’t take no for an answer. “Hey, man, be good to the brothers and let this lady in, a’aight?”
“Fuck that,” Ace said. “She stays out. End of discussion. But maybe we can start a new one by you telling me what your buddy in the car is doing without any damn clothes on.”
Both Mad Dawg and T-Bone were at a loss how to respond to that.
But the next one who spoke was Yuki, who was looking at Ace…and into him. Her voice spoke with pure, total certainty. “You will allow me entrance. And you will serve me in other matters, as well.”


In the same moment T-Bone asked Ace to be good to the brothers, Yuki reached out with her otherworldly power and disrupted the hard drives that controlled the cameras in the same way she did the pawn shop’s alarm system not long before. It was as if someone flicked a switch, and the hard drives died instantly. One moment, the man assigned to watch the monitors was lounging in his seat, looking at Ace talking to two black guys and an Asian chick who looked like she was wearing a guy’s clothes…and in the next moment, every screen went blank. He went bolt-upright in his seat and said, “What the fuck?”
Another man in the room, an accountant who worked for Pucci, whirled around in response from his checks and balances. He was a jovial-looking, chunky man of middle age who wished he could be out in the showroom watching the girls dancing. He said, “What’s up, Donnie?”
Donnie shot him a look. “Look at the damn monitors, Lee! That’s what’s up!”
The accountant shrugged. “Maybe there’s some kind of glitch in the drives again. That happened last month, right?”
“When that B.S. happened most of the cameras were still working. This isn’t just a fuckin’ glitch, we lost every camera inside and outside the club! I think the cameras are still working, power’s still goin’ through the system, but...”
“Circuit breaker, maybe?”
“How the hell should I know? I just watch this shit!” Donnie thought of the irony of the situation: Yeah, the wonders of fucking progress. Most shit these days will go kaput if you frigging sneeze on it! Hopefully it was just some dumb glitch in the system, and even if it wasn’t…well, that ain’t my problem. Somebody’ll have to call a fuckin’ repairman. “I’ll find out, but first I gotta get ahold of Ace. I can’t see shit outside, and that means he’s the only eyes we’ve got.” Donnie got his cell phone from a belt clip and speed-dialed Ace’s phone. He hoped he’d hear a ringing tone…but instead he got a computer voice saying the line was busy. He tried again, and he got the same thing. He gave it a third try…no luck. Donnie started to get nervous.
So did Lee. “Isn’t he answering?”
“He should be,” Donnie said, and he hung up. “I’m going to get some of the guys and take a look outside, just in case. I dunno what – !” Then his cell began ringing, surprising them both. He hit the answer key and almost shouted, “Hello?”
On the other end was Ace’s familiar voice. “Donnie?”
“Ace, what the fuck!” Donnie was surprised and angry. “I was trying to get through to you just now! Why was your phone busy?!”
He heard Ace respond, “I was on the phone with Pucci. Letting him know he had visitors, all right?”
The two black guys and the chick, Donnie reasoned, but he wanted to be sure. “You’re talkin’ about those people I saw you with just now?”
“That’s right. They got something for him.”
Gotta be the heroin the boss was expecting, Donnie figured. “Ace, I wanna make sure things are okay right now. We just lost our cameras.”
“Everything’s fine, Donnie. They’ll be coming in right now.”
Donnie nodded. “Okay, I’ll let the cashier know they got the boss’ okay since you called. You sure you’re all right?”
“I’m fine, Donnie. Everything’s okay.”
“Okay, talk to you later.” Donnie hung his cell up.
Lee breathed a sigh of relief. “Everything’s okay, right?”
“I dunno,” Donnie mused. “Ace sounded weird just now.”
“Weird? What do you mean?”
“When I first heard his voice…this may sound dumb, but he sounded like he was crying. But there ain’t no way that can be right.”
But it was right.
Outside, under the dead cameras, Ace had seen.
He waited outside next to the 300C with Bennie J.


Inside the club.
The air, smoky and burning with neon and pulsating spotlight, was equally thick with the psychic feedback of unrestrained anticipation and desire. Most of the patrons were men, with the few women in the crowded showroom either accompanying them as dates or to fulfill their own desires, whether they admitted it or not. Some of the customers were involved with each other, for one form of fulfillment or another.
Most, of course, were there to watch the show.
On the main stage, which ran through the showroom and comprised a total of 400 square feet of area, a dozen exotic dancers gyrated and writhed about poles that extended to the ceiling. Their naked bodies glistened under the hot lights, merchandise, advertising the club’s main attractions with pornographic thrusts, bends and strokes to inane, earblasting cookie-cutter trance and hip-hop. In these ladies’ craft, the only pretense was in the tease of their performance…and very little was left to the imagination. Most were Caucasian, naturally, and blonde. Not all of those blondes, though, were naturally so: one would only have had to look at the peroxide manes of some of these girls, and then simply look further south to see the truth.
Scattered through the main room and around the stage one would have seen a different kind of meat. The testosterone-fueled kind, as obvious in the purpose of their presence as their steroid-induced musculature. A relative handful were scattered around the stage in t-shirts emblazoned with “Hot Biscuit” in stylized script…bouncers, their presence an implied threat that no one gets out of hand with the dancers. Several more were scattered among the patrons in strategic areas. They wore dark suits, and if one looked closely at each of them through the thick air, one would have noticed a bulge at one’s waist…under the arm of another…even the ankle of a couple. These men were armed and pure business…soldati, urban soldiers armed to their capped teeth.
Except for one.
Danny Choi held the most critical position, standing next to the door that led to the V.I.P. rooms; from there a back corridor led to the dancers’ dressing rooms and to access to the basement floor under the club, where Antonio Pucci was entertaining guests. His eyes were hawk’s eyes, always searching his environs, missing nothing. He held the least-intimidating presence, wearing a cream-colored business suit. A casual observer could have been forgiven easily for thinking Danny a customer. Unlike his fellow enforcers, he wasn’t armed.
He didn’t have to be. Danny Choi was several times deadlier unarmed than his peers would have been even if they were each outfitted with the heaviest of armaments. He held a 7th Dan Black Belt in Shotokan Karate and was a 10th Degree Master of Southern Hung-Gar Kung-Fu. But his training and knowledge of the deadliest arts of martial combat known to Humanity wasn’t all that made him dangerous. It wasn’t what made him truly deadly.
What made Danny deadly was his anger…an incandescent, nova-white anger that did not stem from any form of psychological disorder, although it had verged on becoming pathological. It was an anger born from the events of his life, an anger at times that threatened to drown his senses in a crimson haze. Even now, as he looked out at the room full of patrons, Danny seemed to be moribund with the situation but the anger wrapped about him like the bandages of a mummy. He was angry with the customers who were so self-involved, and the dancers and their seeming shamelessness. He even felt angry with his fellow enforcers and the stupidity of their roles, and his employers and their unapologetic amorality.
And of course, Danny was angry with himself and the circumstances of his life and his role. He had given his anger free vent, of course, and many times. When some ignorant customer couldn’t control himself during a lap dance, Danny would ask him to leave…after ensuring he would leave stumbling away with his face looking like bloody ground beef. When Antonio Pucci or someone else in Nico Roccoli’s organization would task him to interrogate someone for a real or imagined offense, and more often than not many bones would be broken as a result. When, on several occasions, Danny was ordered to pay a visit to someone who wouldn’t pay a debt, attempted to cheat, or refused to be intimidated by the Roccoli family, and he would deal with them. Permanently.
Such acts never abated Danny’s anger. On the contrary, it only fueled his rage even further. Only his surprisingly strong sense of self-control kept that rage in check. If he was a man of lesser will, he would have lost control years before…but as the 37-year-old enforcer watched from his position in the club, his self-control was threatening to fail him.
You might be asking yourself why. Truthfully, it would do no good to explain such things, for some things cannot be explained in words. You would have had to live Danny Choi’s life. Lose your parents at the age of eleven in a senseless automobile accident. Afterward, gotten adopted by a self-described liberal couple who professed to the agency right in front of you that they would make sure that in spite of the fact they were white, little Danny ‘would always be rooted to his Chinese ethnicity’. Patronizing, of course, but what the hell…maybe these strangers would have given you a home, at least a semblance of the love your parents gave you. But in their home, behind closed doors and drawn curtains, you would discover their every word and promise patronizing or not, even the simple yet profound statement I love you was complete bullshit. You would go through unbearable, white-hot pain from ritualistic acts of sadism that would make a Nazi proud. Suffer repeated horror and humiliation when the monsters did even worse things to fulfill their darkest desires.
Outside of the house of horrors that was your home wasn’t much better. You were an American, but you couldn’t change the incidental fact of your Chinese ancestry, passed down through genes by your parents. Of course some assholes believed that this is one nation under them and their skin color alone, and it wouldn’t just be white kids who gave you at the very least funny looks that made you feel smaller and more alone inside as you walked down the halls. Insecurity and ignorance that is the lifeblood of racism couldnever be limited to Caucasians. Even some teachers looked at you with a measure of contempt, confused you in their bigoted minds with Japanese or even Vietnamese, depending on the origin of their hatred. You dreaded going to school, being tripped in the cafeteria when you carried your lunch tray, followed by a pack of boys made bold by their numbers into a restroom. And every time it had inevitably happened, every time a well-meaning teacher or hall monitor was not watching or if one of your few friends was not there to help you, you would have been reminded that YOU WERE DIFFERENT. You were hazed, insulted, jeered, humiliated, slapped, and beaten. But no matter how much you dreaded school, you had the slight comfort to know it was better than…home.
Would living such a life have made you angry? Would it have made you so angry that one day, when you were fifteen, you beat the monster who called herself “mother” to death? And when your “father” came home, would you have also killed him? Would you have run, and then been arrested? Would you have been sent to a state-run facility with other juvenile offenders, many of whom were just as bad as your parents? Would your life then have shifted to a constant fight-or-flight mode as you defended yourself against these wolves, often succeeding…but at other, more terrible times failing and then you thought to yourself that it was a mixed blessing that you were alive after what has been done to you? And after the state released you at the age of eighteen…what then? Yes, perhaps you would have been angry. Angry with your birth parents for leaving you alone in a minefield called life. Angry with the ghosts of the monsters who took your childhood from you. Angry at the world – and everyone in it as a consequence – for being so fucking cruel. Angry with any and all symbols and institutions of authority and rule of law. Angry with America, your home, God’s Country, for you had been so beaten down in soul and temperament and identity that you didn’t feel like this country was your home…that everything it stood for was one big joke. And you would have been angry with yourself for being a punk, for being so fucking WEAK.
That last thing you might have believed you could do something about. It would have taken years and your motivations would have remained unspoken to your teachers, but you learned the martial skills that would have made you strong. Given you the opportunity to exercise your anger, give it a target. What would your target have been? You would probably have decided it didn’t matter. During your years of training you would have been noticed and then approached by a man working for a local Triad, and just like that you were prowling the streets with other young gangsters. You would have extorted, robbed, jacked, beaten, murdered and every other terrible thing to put the gang on top. But to be part of a group of street gangsters, while profitable, would have been too limiting for you. You would have gotten ambitious, desired to rise up in the underworld.
That was why Danny Choi left the Triads six years ago…but he lived to tell about it because he left them to join the family of Nico Roccoli. Also known as Boss Roccoli, leader of the most powerful crime family in Missouri and Illinois. And there Danny was, the most dangerous enforcer in the American Midwest, as he watched the inside of the club and secretly seethed with an anger that begged for release.
That was when the woman came in.


She was preceded by two men Danny saw several times in the past, Mad Dawg and TBone. Like them, she was dressed in ghetto-punk men’s wear, but the clothes fit her only marginally. They stopped just outside of the hall that led to the entrance and the way they looked at her, their every move and gesture signaled the fact that she led them. This immediately piqued Danny’s interest: he knew for a fact those ethnocentric thugs didn’t care for anything or anyone outside of themselves. She proceeded forward into the showroom, leaving them behind. Through the smoky air, Danny noticed her eyes…something in her eyes made him snap to full alert, and just like that he focused on nothing but this woman. She cast a glance to the stage and to the women dancing on it. She settled on one dancer, a brunette with the stage name Delilah, who seemed to take her interest. For a moment Danny relaxed, but he told himself to stay alert and be ready for anything. Something about this woman made him apprehensive on a level he didn’t want to admit…especially to himself.


Moments before, as she danced, Delilah wanted to die.
Even Danny Choi would have been surprised at the level of self-loathing the twenty-three year old dancer named Delilah suffered. She was the only brunette dancer on the stage, and like her peers she knew how to play the crowd. Work them up and hook them in. That was only part in parcel why she hated herself…why she hated life so much she desired death.
Delilah’s childhood was one Danny would understand. Like him, she was abused…but not by family. At least, not right away. Her mother had become a widow when she was only four, a husband and father lost to cancer. Delilah’s mother, a devout Catholic, wanted her daughter to have structure in her life; however, she was kept busy providing for them both, and so she felt she had to have her daughter go to her neighborhood’s local Christian day care center during her working hours. However, what should have been a time of promise and learning, religiously oriented or not, would become a living nightmare for the little girl.
Delilah caught the eye of a priest who regularly taught at the center…just as a young injured deer would catch the eye of a wolf that prowled the wilderness. He began molesting her in his office on nearly a daily basis. In his Halloween mask guise of a man of religion, he remarked to his colleagues that Delilah was a special little girl. Delilah didn’t feel special…after the first incident, she was confused and hurt. The man who seemed so nice at first did the strangest things to her…he touched her in ways she couldn’t understand, and he made her touch that thing that was under his pants, she could only call it a thing because she didn’t know WHAT it was, but after a few moments it burst and suddenly her hands were sticky. She never told her mother what happened after that first day. She wanted to, but she couldn’t. She didn’t know how. Delilah, like a few other boys and girls at the center, held a secret she knew at her very core was wrong…but she never spoke of it.
Days in the center turned to months, and the “special time” took place every other day in the priest’s office for Delilah. After some time, the priest began to have intercourse with the little girl. Confusion and humiliation and fear turned one day into searing pain for Delilah, pain she never could have imagined. The terror and agony coalesced and she knew once and for all what evil was. Delilah, through tears, said she would tell her mother what he did to her. But the priest said she couldn’t talk to anyone about this, the secret times he and Delilah spent together. He was doing God’s work, he said, and He would be so angry if the little girl said anything to anyone that her mother would be struck dead by lightning.
Months turned into years. Delilah became more withdrawn and sullen as she began parochial school. The priest followed her and became a teacher there. Yes…Delilah was special to him. Her mother didn’t seem to notice her daughter’s moodiness…in fact she did, but she had so much to worry about providing for them both, and she was sure her daughter was being HANDLED well by her teachers. Then, a few months before her thirteenth birthday Delilah’s mother, an accountant, was given a lucrative job offer…but to accept it, she had to move to another town. Enroll her child in a public school. Delilah, who felt like she was dying inside for so long, finally knew the meaning of hope when she and her mother moved.
In public school, outside of the cloistered atmosphere she knew for so long in life, Delilah began to learn many new things. In her fourteenth year, one of those things was sex education, and it took all of her self-control to not scream in front of her classmates as she learned about the penis and the vagina. She never understood the evil that was inflicted upon her, but at least she now knew how to describe such things. The teacher said that sex is something adults do…and if one day those in class wanted to do the same, they should learn to use protection. How could she possibly want to go through that kind of pain and horror again? How could anyone think of such a thing as good?
One day her school’s counselor approached Delilah, noticing her depression. She was a kind and gentle woman who had experience as a psychologist, and felt someone should talk to this girl. At first, Delilah didn’t want to talk to her…she still didn’t know how to talk to anyone about this, but at least she realized that the threats the priest made toward her mother were bullshit. With patience and surprising grace, and more than a little experience in helping abused children in the past, the counselor gently questioned her. Delilah told her as much as she could bear…she told the counselor she always felt it was her fault the priest did those things to her, that there was something wrong with her. Her guilt more than her fear was what kept it inside for so long. The counselor quietly contacted the principal, and after a brief discussion Delilah’s mother was summoned to the school.
But when the principal and counselor informed her of what her daughter said, even when Delilah herself spoke of the abuse, her mother refused to hear it. She immediately called her daughter a dirty, filthy liar for calling a holy man – a man she knew, a man she trusted – a child molester. But the counselor had experience in such things, she knew the signs, everything Delilah said rang true. Unfortunately after much heated discussion the principal, a man who feared bad publicity and the possibility of legal troubles, erred on the side of cowardice and instructed the counselor to drop the entire matter. She was so furious with the principal she served her two weeks’ notice the next day.
Things didn’t improve for Delilah after her mother took her home. They argued…the anger of their words escalated, and for the first time in her life her mother hit her. She slapped Delilah across the face. Her mother was prideful and adamant: she would never hear such nasty, horrible lies from her daughter again, ever. Delilah once feared her mother would die…she never knew until that moment that something worse could happen. There was something wrong with her, the fragile young girl realized. What happened was her fault, she had been and always would be bad. Then and there she truly began to hate herself…to hate life. The relationship between Delilah and her mother frayed almost beyond repair. It was the natural consequence of trust lost between a parent and child.
Delilah felt like a stranger in her own home, with a mother who didn’t wish to understand her pain. Outside of her home, the girl became reckless…she lashed out in every way she should not have. She wanted her mother to recognize her, get her fucking attention. She became an incorrigible and troublemaker. She caused trouble for teachers and fellow students in high school for the smallest reasons…and sometimes she got violent. One day she literally lunged on the prima-donna bitch who led the varsity cheerleader squad. Delilah wanted to take the girl’s Walkman, which she used to listen to Madonna between classes, and shove it up her ass. The only thing she didn’t do as she progressed through her sophomore and junior years was try to be promiscuous with boys. The concept of sex with anyone, to even kiss someone, reminded her of the priest who molested her. Every time she was attracted to a boy, she wanted to fantasize of such things…but her pain made her turn from such thoughts. She felt more and more alone.
The one thing Delilah loved, the one thing that made her feel alive, was dancing. She had begun learning dance at a studio not long after she escaped the priest and began a new life away from him. In spite of her pain, in spite of her self-loathing, it was what gave her life meaning. It was her escape, to give herself to music, to have her body flow with the rhythms of it. And she did so wonderfully…even her mother was moved by her talent, even after the rift grew between them. As she grew into a beautiful woman, this one part of her life showed the greatest promise for happiness.
It wasn’t long before Delilah’s seventeenth year of life that what seemed to be an explosion of arrests began…arrests of priests within the Catholic Church for the sexual abuse of children. One of those arrested was the priest Delilah said molested her. The man her mother trusted and believed in, the wolf her mother thought had handled her daughter so well for so long. His arrest and the charges listed against him by former students, some of whom Delilah knew from the center, were part of a news report on television. For a moment, the teenager’s heart swelled…maybe now mother would understand! Maybe she would finally see that man as the monster he is!
But incredibly, Delilah’s mother didn’t believe it…she wouldn’t. She said it was all lies created to destroy the Catholic Church, to destroy him. Catholics had been persecuted before, she said with the blind resolve of a borderline zealot, and now it was happening again. Delilah begged her mother, pleaded with her to listen, but she wouldn’t. Instead, she told her child to leave…and never come back. The girl felt torn apart inside, she was a stranger to her mother, and she did the only thing she could do: what her mother wanted. She ran away.
Delilah began moving across the country, existing as best she could…as well as any runaway her age with no sanctuary and few prospects could. Any hope for a new life faded, even when she managed to find other young adults just like her who sought to survive. When they attempted to evade those who would prey on them. Delilah lost friends just as quickly as she made them in part because of predators just as bad as the monster who devastated her childhood, and she knew she was fortunate to have escaped the same fate. But a part of her wondered why she even wanted to survive. It was a growing part of her that secretly wished for death, to bring an end to a life that brought her nothing but pain…pain that she believed was her fault.
At the age of nineteen, she was approached by a lecherous bug of a man as she panhandled outside of Union Station in St. Louis. The man claimed to be a scout looking for fresh young talent. She had heard offers like that before, and immediately began to walk away. But what stopped her was his claiming to work for a local strip club, and he said he was looking for new dancers. He might have been a malignant bastard, but he was a practical bastard: the moment he saw her, he knew the girl had the potential to make his boss a lot of money in the long-term. By this time, she had nearly lost all hope for making a life for herself…a life she wanted. And the lure of losing herself to music pulled to her, in spite of her better instincts. After visiting the club and discovering the offer was truthful, and after a brief tryout, she reluctantly said yes. The manager of the club asked her name…but she wouldn’t use the name she was born with. That life was gone. She remembered from her poisoned childhood the biblical story of Samson, and the woman who betrayed and destroyed him. She thought ruefully, I’m not that much better than her, anyway. It was in this way she gave herself the name Delilah.
Delilah already knew how to lose herself to the music, and that was the only thing that made her first night dancing nude in front of leering eyes tolerable. It got easier with each performance, but each night of dancing made her feel more alone…more guilty. That didn’t change when Guido Roccoli, son of Boss Roccoli himself, went there to meet with one of his many lieutenants and noticed Delilah. One of Guido’s few redeeming qualities was the fact that he loved his wife, and would never do anything to betray her. But some stripper joint was where the jerk wanted to meet and it was important, so what the hell could you do? Guido resolved not to watch any of the girls while there, but he couldn’t help but be beguiled by Delilah. Guido decided then and there that the girl would be a perfect fit for this new club his dad opened up and gave to Tony Pucci to manage, the Hot Biscuit. Guido approached the manager and bought out her contract, and that was how Delilah came to be there.
Two years later, the dancer’s feelings didn’t change…they intensified. On that early morning after Good Friday, as she danced, Delilah wanted to die more than ever before. Maybe that way she could have escaped the guilt…and the loneliness.


Then, as she danced, Delilah noticed the woman.
She saw the woman was strangely dressed in men’s clothes, and would have dismissed her…except that there was something more to her. There was an unusually neutral expression on the woman’s face. Delilah knew better than anyone that the moment a customer came into the showroom to see the dancers, one thing that customer never had was a neutral expression. This couldn’t have been called forced neutrality, either. Maybe…maybe we honestly don’t matter to her, Delilah thought. But if that’s true, then what’s she doing here? As if in response to her thoughts…
…the woman looked directly at her.
Within the next moment, Delilah was startled to feel a strange sensation…the feeling the woman was not simply looking at her, but into her. Delilah focused on her dancing, but couldn’t help but look back at this strange woman in turn. She couldn’t help but think to herself: It’s like…like she wants to know me. But why would she want to know about me? Why would she care? As quickly as the sensation came, it passed.
Because the woman had looked away from Delilah, and had begun moving again.
Toward Danny Choi.


Every instinct in Danny virtually screamed THREAT as the woman walked directly toward him…toward the doorway to the V.I.P. rooms and access to the basement where Antonio Pucci was. Every aspect of his being, body and soul, tensed in preparation. He didn’t know what she wanted, and he didn’t care. But she walked up to him, casual, not presenting an overt threat of any kind. She stopped a respectful distance away, and regarded Danny for a moment. Like Delilah, he got the brief but disquieting sense that she was looking into him…but that feeling quickly passed because she was in motion again.
She walked past Danny to the doorway. With practiced speed he turned and followed her, closing the distance quickly as they crossed the threshold into the back, out of the view of everyone in the showroom. He reached out and took hold of her shoulder and began to proclaim, “You can’t go back there!”
But Danny barely managed to say, “You can’t – !” before the woman spun around with incredible speed and grabbed his wrist. An inner switch was flipped in his being and nearly two decades of accumulated knowledge in the martial arts took over. He attempted an incapacitating open-palm strike to her chest to knock the wind out of her, but she parried it easily.
Danny tried again, no longer fooling around. However, no matter how strong or fast he was with his strikes, she blocked every one as if he was in slow motion. Then her right hand shot out like lightning and grabbed his throat. Danny, startled, was driven backward to the near wall. Her grip was like a vise…he grabbed her wrist with both hands, and he was shocked by how strong the woman was. More than that, the cords of muscle under her skin felt like welded iron. Her fingers felt like iron as they held him by the throat and wouldn’t let go. He tried to breathe, but couldn’t and he started to choke –
And then. She looked into Danny Choi’s eyes.
He looked back into her own…he couldn’t have helped it. And then.
Danny began to see…


One song had begun to wind down for another…of course, that didn’t have to happen since most ‘popular music’ not only sounded but felt the same. A new group of dancers appeared at the stage to take the place of the odd-numbered ones, Delilah being one of them. She blew a kiss to the customers in the room, the gesture as fake as the breasts of the dancer who took her place. As she took a red silk robe from one of the bouncers and put it on, she couldn’t help but think about the woman she saw several minutes before. She was so distracted she didn’t notice for a moment the rest of the girls had left her behind to go to the back. She then proceeded to the back, as well…and naturally, like always, Danny was there. But when she reached the doorway…
“Delilah, wait,” Danny said, and he placed his hand out in a gentle ‘hold it’ gesture. “If it’s okay, someone needs to talk to you for a moment.”
“Who wants to talk to me?” Then Delilah tensed up. “Hey, if you’re talking about doing something for one of the customers, forget it! I told Mister Pucci I only dance, and that’s it!”
“It isn’t that,” the enforcer said reassuringly. “But this really can’t wait. I know you want to get back to the dressing room, but…could you please come with me?”
Delilah, in spite of her mood, gave Danny a strange look. She had really wanted to like Danny, in spite of what he did for Mister Pucci, and she couldn’t help but think of him at times…but he was always so aloof and distant. He was never this…nice. “Just as long as this doesn’t take too much time, okay? That was my last set for the night, and I want to go home.”
Then Danny smiled…a genuine, sunny smile Delilah didn’t know he was capable of. “Of course. It’ll be in one of the V.I.P. rooms. Let me show you the way, all right?” He reached out and gently took hold of her arm, and guided her through the threshold. Delilah let the man guide him…she didn’t know this man at all, but a part of her wanted to in spite of her guilt. She felt she had no reason to be afraid as they walked down the hall and within a few seconds he guided the dancer into one of the side rooms.
Inside, Delilah was surprised when she saw the woman from before, waiting for them. Before she could say anything, Danny quickly side-stepped behind Delilah and twisted her arm hard behind her back with one hand and slapped his other hand around her mouth. A nova explosion of fear hit Delilah and she tried to struggle, but she realized she had no chance against the man’s superior strength. Then the woman walked to them. Delilah froze, her eyes bulged over Danny’s silencing hand. She didn’t know what this woman wanted. She didn’t want to know. She wanted to get out, to get away –
And then the woman was right in front of her.
She looked into Delilah’s eyes.


Danny Choi felt Delilah stiffen in his grip, and he knew. He didn’t have to look at her face to know.
Delilah had begun to see.
Danny couldn’t help but look at himself, as if for the very first time, and he had marveled at how incredibly foolish he had been for so long. How blind he was…until he had seen. All of that anger over all of those years…it was so pathetic. To think it once didn’t matter to him who he hurt, how much pain he could have caused. He never knew the truth until now…he never knew what could be possible. He never knew that there were those in this world who deserved his anger.
He never knew there were those who truly deserved to die.
Danny felt Delilah under his hands. He wondered if it would be possible to…no. He had such thoughts about her before, but they were so brief in the face of his useless, stupid rage. He had to help Yuki, he had to assist her in every way he could…if she asked him to give his life, he would and with pleasure. Such thoughts about Delilah didn’t matter…they couldn’t matter in comparison to his service to Yuki. Or could they? He honestly wondered about that.
After a few moments, Danny felt Delilah’s muscles soften from their prior rigidity, as if her very being was deflating. He didn’t have to imagine what the dancer was feeling. He knew. He took his hand from her mouth, and he could hear it as Delilah’s breath broke into quick, hitched gasps.
Danny didn’t have to see her face to know Delilah was crying.


Yuki held Delilah’s face gently…tears flowed down her cheeks and over Yuki’s fingers, as if from a deep wellspring of sorrow given release. Yuki was patient…she knew what she had just shown the girl was too much for anyone to absorb immediately. It was so for the others. She waited a few moments…and then Delilah’s quivering lips parted. She wanted to speak, but she was uncertain. Yuki stepped even closer until their faces were bare inches apart. When she spoke, it was with silken softness. “You understand what you have seen.”
It wasn’t a question. Delilah managed to whisper, “Yes.” And she did, just like Danny and the others.
“I am Yuki. I will need those who can serve me.” She paused for a brief moment, and then said, “I will need you.”
Delilah’s breath steadied and deepened, relaxing. Danny let go of her arms, and her hands flew upward to close about Yuki’s. Her voice was unsteady, but there was strength in it. “Anything for you. I’ll do anything for you.”
It was so for Danny and the others.
Yuki kissed Delilah, fully and deeply. It was a kiss returned with passion.

This story is the copyright (2006) of Charles Spencer, and is the sole property of the author. No part of this story may be reproduced or transmitted, by electronic means or otherwise, without the express permission of the author.