He's as loving and caring as a cactus. Be careful who you choose for a friend.

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"How far do you want to go?" his eyes were a deep green, and they sparkled like dew-beaded meadows grown rampant beneath a bright summer sun.

I sucked a deep breath and held his gaze. "All the way to the end, baby."

"Good. 'Cause that's the only place I know to go. But you should be warned, kid," he hissed, his grin an evil leer. His eyes bunched with the lines of his age when he smiled. "You're going to see it all with me, and you can't be afraid. You can't have no queasy gut. 'Cause, like I says, with me you're going to see it all. Every nasty bit. You got it? Ain't nothing I won't do. So there can't be nothing you won't do. You understand?"

I swallowed with difficulty, and I ran through the green fields of his demonic stare. I let my arms out wide and free and I let my imagination fly through the irrepressible leagues of him. Again I nodded. "Yeah, I got it."

"You had better, punk. 'Cause the first time I hear you whinin', you get it. And you get it like you don't want it." He laughed and punched me in the arm painfully. "Hell, boy, them that we come across, they'll get it easy. But you fuck me, and you won't get it easy. And the thing is this..."

When he didn't seem obliged to finish, I stopped in the center of his gaze, and I spun deliriously. And I demanded, "What?"

"Walking with me is like walking with the devil, boy. Ain't no way in hell or heaven you can do it without staining your soul. And there ain't no way on earth you can do it without dying. You walk with me, youngster, and you walk hand in hand with your creator. If they don't get you, I will, or you'll get me... maybe. But even then, some time, somewhere, you got it coming. It's coming to us all. The righteous and the damned. Every dog, boy. You know what I mean?"

I nodded, but I didn't let my eyes drop. I didn't flee the unwholesome wilderness of his mind. I stood fast, and I nodded.

"I can tell you ain't afraid," he said, gripping me by the same shoulder he had assaulted, pulling me close, tucking me under his heavily tattooed arm as though I were a babe, while I was a big man, myself. Yet my eyes never left his. I felt I could look up into the dull gray heavens that were his storming thoughts as played out at the dome of his skull and see his twisted imagination boiling blackly. It threatened thunderheads and hailstones, and cast a pall over the verdant hills that inhabited his emerald gaze. "But that might mean two things, and I can't tell which, yet. It could mean you got brass balls, like everybody says you do. Or it could mean you're just dumb as an earthworm." He laughed again, and his leer broadened. He pulled me closer. "Whichever it is, you just signed up to suck Satan's cock, boy!"

He pushed me away then, and, laughing cruelly, jerked his gaze away from mine and cast me free of the fertile fields of his insanity. I stumbled away, into the room to face the others as a boy that has been abused most bestially.

They joined his laughter, though their scared, confused faces told me they had no clue as to the nature of the joke. I swallowed with difficulty, and struggled to straighten the collar and lapels of my jacket.

Recovering my composure, I stalked across the foyer to take my assigned place in the room. Most of them were sitting around a table that was strewn with cards and money and cocaine mirrors and half-empty bottles of whiskey. They laughed as devils might laugh, short, sharp, with a shock of guttural, demonic pleasure. They laughed like they might laugh to watch the rape of a young girl. And I hated them for it.

I hated them, and I knew I could kill them all. He was moving around to the far side of the room now, the right arm of Lucifer that was sweeping silently, lethally to encompass this feral body of repulsive criminals. They were our unwitting prey, and I could not help but let the twitch of a half-smile turn one corner of my lip into an immature version of his own black sneer.

One of them called out to him, some foul joke I didn't understand. He laughed and slapped the man chummily on his back as he passed, and not even I could see the serpent staring back at us all from the manufactured glaze of his green, green eyes.

When he had found his place and whipped back the tail of his coat, when I saw the first flash of his weapon, I reached for my own handgun and drew a bead on the first man to fall into my line of vision. And I pulled the trigger on another human being for the first time in my life.

It would not be the last. That day alone I killed five. He killed seven. It wasn't an uncommon crime, I suppose. I mean, it made the news for a couple of days, and they spent a few days longer looking for us, but that seemed to be the worst of it as far as the wider world was concerned.

Inside the world that existed within the boundaries of my own head, however, the impact was far, far greater. To him, it seemed as nothing, this gross harvest of human life. While it filled my every thought with a vile ugliness, and stirred my stomach with a poisoned spoon. I worked alongside him to gather the money and jewelry that would be the spoils of our blood sport, and I tried not to let him hear my heaving guts.

"It's the first mistake, you know," he whispered, as he cut a large, gem-encrusted ring off one fat finger of a fat corpse, the eyes of which were fixed on the plaster ceiling. I half turned my head to find what it might see up there. "Panic." He chuckled blackly, and held his bloody prize up to the light between a latex sheathed thumb and forefinger

"Well, maybe the first mistake is the act of murder. I don't know. I've never been clear on what is right and wrong." He gloated and slipped the ring into a draw string pouch that he held in his left hand. "But the first mistake a man makes toward getting himself caught is panic. You have to understand, I think, that killing a man makes no tell-tale ripples to give the killer away. Sure, they hear the shots, if you're not careful, and they call the police, but planning and a cool head go a long way toward making things right, you know?" He paused his mentoring to point with the tip of his bloody knife. "Check that scrawny little fucker over there."

"I already checked him." My eyes were large and liquid, I knew, I could feel them staring back at him that way. My face was scared, though I tried to hold it firm and hard.

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