Nu Pulp – “The Deal” by Ben MacConnell

Think maybe I’ll put these little stories out on a weekly basis, on Thursdays. Don’t take this as a concrete schedule, though. Just seems like the way things are working out.

“We brought the stuff. You got the money?”

Bob Marley was an impatient gangster. Blunt, and to the point. He’d been waiting an hour with his boys in the old warehouse by the docks. If there’s one thing Bob didn’t like – aside from overcooked steaks and the cops of course – it’s being made to wait. And the putz who just showed up was very, very late.

Said putz covered his short curly locks beneath a brown trilby. He had a thin nose, under which was a broad grin. The Harried Handler stood at average height, but possessed a lanky frame. He carried a large briefcase, which he raised for all to see. “Aye, your payment is right here, gentlemen. Before that, however, let’s see the stuff.”

Marley motioned to one of his boys, the one carrying a box. The lug opened the box and fished out a part of a machine. He showed off the parts one by one, as well as several glass boxes containing bright green crystals. Once the full stock was shown off, Marley said, “Satisfied?”

“Very,” said the Harried Handler, stepping forward. With Marley’s armed men eying him, he put the briefcase on a table in the middle of the room. “You’ll probably want to inspect the cash.” He waved them over to the case.

Bob Marley stepped a few paces distant from the table, pointing from his men to the case. “Mr. Handler, I trust you know of those incidents involving some of my prominent rivals. Suitcases filled with bombs and all that.”

“From what I heard,” said the Harried Handler, picking up the conversion, eying the hired muscle reaching down to open the case, “the ones who carried those bombs to the deals were fully willing to get lit up alongside their targets. Some kind of suicidal commitment to their work. Most of the papers say they’re cultists of some kind, but…”

“You disagree?”

“Always suspected mind control of some kind, myself,” continued the Harried Handler. Glancing at the goon manhandling his briefcase, he said, “Don’t worry though. There’s no bomb in there, I can assure you.”

The locks on the case were oddly resistant to opening, due to an unorthodox system. Marley’s man finally opened it up and peered within. He flinched, dumbfounded. “What the hell…?”

“It’s something much worse…”

A thin rope-like protrusion shot out from the briefcase and wrapped itself around the goon’s neck. Yet two more soon followed, coiling around his struggling arms. Panicking, the man frantically gesticulated, trying to grasp at his neck but failing to best the dark tendrils. Amidst the shocked gasps and curses of his fellows, an audible snap broke through and the man went limp. The grip of the ropes slackened, allowing the body to drop.

“Olly! What the fuck was in that…” began Bob Marley, before he was cut off by a loud gunshot. Bob saw the Harried Handler with a pistol, firing one round, then another into Bob’s men. Looking from side to side, Bob saw his boys raise panicked firearms, only to fall to the ground in a heap. In the span of thirty seconds (at most), Bob was down four men, one of them dropping a sub machine gun at his boss’s feet.

Lowering his weapon, the Harried Handler grinned his demonic grin and stood over the accursed briefcase. He dipped his hand inside, turning his back to Marley.

Things were going south for Bob Marley. More like went south and bought a summer home in El Vera, but regardless the gangster could only stand aghast and let his heart beat rapidly. Summoning his outrage, he dipped to the floor and came up with his underling’s deadly instrument. “You little shit!” he barked, aiming the SMG toward the offending putz. “You killed my men! God dammit you fucker, what the hell is in that…case…?”

It was black first of all. Shiny black, with a bit of white around the suction cups. Indeed, what the Harried Handler held in his hand was a writhing mass of dark tentacles, unfurled enough to stretch a least three feet from the center in multiple directions. The tendrils wrapped firmly around the Handler’s arm for support, allowing other arms to sway about in the air or dangle near the ground.

And then there were the eyes. It had a few of them around the center mass, though Bob had trouble distinguishing where any part of the mass began or ended.

“Sorry, this is my partner,” said the Harried Handler, showing off the distended monstrosity. A single tentacle wobbled up and gently stroked the vile man’s cheek. “I’d tell you its name – and it is quite a lovely name – but it’s hard to say and even harder to grasp without a dozen repetitions.

“We made a deal, it and I,” explained the Handler. “A contract of sorts. It makes itself useful as a tool and bodyguard of sorts, and I carry it around, providing opportunities for regular meals.”

Enough was enough. Bob let loose a volley of gunfire from his sub machine gun, bellowing a frightened, venomous shriek. “Die you sick…!” He fired off maybe a dozen rounds before he could only shake in terror.

The tentacles were quick. Quick and strong, from the looks of it. They had to be, or else how could they have blocked the incoming fire to such a degree that the Harried Handler stood unfazed, and untouched. Then Bob had to moan in dread, because the tendrils starting dropping bullets.

Not just blocked the rounds. The tentacles caught them. Caught as easily as a pitcher catches a baseball.

“…well, that was fun,” said the Harried Handler, walking forward. He got up to three feet away from the gangster.

“No! Stay away! S-stop it! N-no!” stammered Bob Marley, blocking with the firearm in lieu of continuing the volley. Even in his terrorized state, he knew a lost cause when he saw it.

“Catch!” said the Harried Handler, tossing the wriggling abomination. As Marley shrieked, it wrapped around him like a bundle of constrictor snakes. The muffled cries and frantic flailing filled the room as the Handler sidled to one of the downed gang members. In the commotion, the poor man dropped the box containing the machine parts and crystals. “Gotta hang it to you, Marles. Marlies. Bob. You managed to get the stuff I asked for.” He stood a few moments, inspecting the product up close.

As the angry, horrid commotion continued, the Handler resumed speaking. “It was fortunate you got this stuff before anyone else did. Those mind controllers – the ones who set up the bombs – would give a pretty penny to get this stuff. Would make our job so much harder.”

Bob tore desperately at his face in an attempt to remove the blight. All he managed was to clear his eyes, bent with overwhelming, basic fear. He looked at the man in the trilby hat.

“You know Marles,” said the Handler, packing up his acquisition, “the world as we know it is changing. The strange is coming out of the cracks in the world. Every two-bit titan, hoodoo shaman, masked idiot, and science master is gearing up for a world too long concerned with rationality and regularity. Gotta face up to the fact that the unknown and the impossible still exist, and have a competitive edge on normal folk. I’m doing you a favor, my good man. I got to you before anything else could.”

Bob Marley’s vision was clouding. A static on the eyeballs that came when all the breath, all the fuel to the brain, was choked out. Tears rolled out of his vacant eyes as the unconscious started to set in. Even as he lost his senses, he could feel a terrible beaked maw – or perhaps one with proper teeth, he neither knew nor cared – starting to feast on him. It was eating him while still alive.

“Well goodnight, Marles,” said the Harried Handler. “It was a pleasure doing business with you.”

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