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Previously: City on Fire, Part 5: A Crack In the Stone
CITY ON FIRE
Jon stumbled through the alleys, as he made his way home. The blood seeping from his arm had slowed, but still threatened to overtake him. It smeared along the filthy brick walls, when he would lose his balance.
Jon came to the end of another alley. Beyond it was a busy street with passersby cluttering the sidewalks. Dammit. Gonna bleed out, if I wait here any longer.
After a moment of thinking, Jon looked back down the alley at the street he'd just passed. There had been a payphone on a practically deserted corner. He couldn't call Red; he couldn't take the chance of involving his family in this mess. However, there was one person who would possibly help him.
Backtracking to the empty street, he slunk to the payphone and , without paying, dialed an old number and prayed he'd remembered it correctly. He held his breath in anticipation, before he heard the ringing on the other end.
“Castillo Pet Shampoo,” a woman answered. “How may we assist you?”
“My dog is filthy. Really filthy,” Jon replied. “I sat him in the alley next to the payphone on the corner of West thirty-ninth and Seventh Avenue; he's that filthy.”
“The name and filthiest area of the dog?”
“Jon and it's his right leg. Ya' may wanna' hurry; I think it's covered with ticks.”
“Not to worry sir. Our van will be there shortly.”
Once the woman hung up, Jon returned to the ally and found a collection of garbage cans to sit behind. As he waited, his eyelids grew heavy and his breathing became labored. Everything began to darken, as he fought to stay awake.
Darkness enveloped him and the world faded, just as he heard the sound of tires screeching to a halt.
10 Years ago
Jon sat against a light post, as he lit up a cigarette and waited. He wore a pair of mirrored sunglasses and a long black coat; buttoned all the way to his neck. Across the street, he watched a church where a wedding had just ended. The bride and groom were all smiles, as they were pelted with rice by their mob of family and friends.
Jon cracked a smile, as he remembered his own wedding. Neither he or Susan knew many people, so they had a small wedding with a handful of their closest friends; friends who thought it would be funny to throw cereal instead of rice.
“What're you smilin' at,” a man's voice shook him from his thoughts.
Next to him stood Lonnie; dressed head to toe in a leather one-piece with a high-collar and a belt.
“Ya look like a damn fool,” said Jon, as he tossed his cigarette into the street. “And yer late.”
“Don't be jealous of the duds, Jonny-boy,” said Lonnie, as he too eyed the wedding. “And it looks like I'm just in time. You see him yet?”
“Not yet,” Jon answered. “Prolly still inside; waitin' for everythin' to die down to leave without too much fuss.”
“That just makes it all the easier. What do ya say we go send the bastard to his maker?”
“We should wait til he exits,” said Jon. “More open to deadpan him.”
“Don't gimme that BS. You just don't wanna bloody up a church. Christ, man up.”
“Ya watch yer mouth,” said Jon. “Use the Lord's name in vain again, n' I'll brain ya.”
“Whatever Jonny-boy,” said Tombstone, as he cracked his knuckles. “Let's get this job over with; I got a spider that needs crushing.”
“Ya still on that kick?” Jon asked, as he and Tombstone walked toward the church. “Yer as bad as a dog with a bone.”
“Just wait, jackass,” Tombstone retorted. “I'll be a freaking hero, once I crush that punk's head in. Hell, maybe I'll get so huge, Manfredi will be kissing my ass for once.”
“Keep on dreamin' Lonnie. Fellas like us are grunts in all this mess; we do what needs done, when we're told to do it.”
“Feel free to live your life as Manfredi's dancing monkey,” said Tombstone, as they came to stand before the church's doors. “Sometime down the line, I'll be the old man's empire.”
With a smirk on his face, Jon just shook his head, as he unbuttoned the middle of his coat and withdrew one of his specially made handguns. Before they entered, he bowed his head and signed the cross over his chest, as Tombstone sneered at him.
“I wish ya luck Lonnie,” said Jon, as he pushed the doors open. “Then I can take it as a sign to retire n' get the hell outta this city before the apocalypse comes.”
A gunshot echoed in Jon's mind, as he shot up from a hospital bed. Everything was blurry for a moment, until his eyes focused and the world became clear. He was inside what looked to be a makeshift recovery room, with a tube up his nose, an IV in his left arm, some electrodes pasted to his chest and his right arm entirely bandaged.
A blond woman was standing with her back to him, as she read over a chart. When she turned to find him awake, she eyed him with a blank expression.
“Dr. Castillo,” she greeted him, as she walked around to his heart monitor. “You're lucky we found you in time; any longer and you'd be buried in a shallow grave in Jersey.”
“Ya have my thanks,” said Jon, as he looked at his arm. “How bad is it?”
“Hard to say. I've dealt with a mutant before with kinetic based powers, but yours is slightly different. Has this ever happened before?”
Jon paused for a moment. “Aye, once before. It was nothing like this.”
“You mutants tend to have an inherent healing ability that allows you to heal quicker than the normal human; sometimes a helluva lot quicker. How long did it take last time?”
Jon scratched his chin in thought, as he answered, “I dunno. Couple days maybe.”
“Given the severity and number of lacerations, you're looking at a few weeks.”
“Weeks? Ya can't be serious.”
She shot him a bemused look, as she said, “This is my serious face. Can't you tell?”
“But I got things ta' do.”
“Then you'll have to do them after a few weeks,” she said, as she grabbed a pill bottle from her lab coat. “Once the pain meds wear off, your life is really gonna suck. Take two of these, twice a day, and you should be able to manage until everything's healed up. If it gets to bad, just call us and I'll send someone out to check up on you.”
Jon fell back onto the bed, with a heavy sigh. This was not the time to be laid up; he'd stumbled onto something bigger than a turf war and Tombstone was proof of that. Lonnie would never work for a two-bit gang like the Butchers.
While deep in thought, Jon didn't notice Dr. Castillo inject something into his IV port, until she was finished.
“What was that?” asked Jon.
“Just something to help you sleep, while I take care of a few things,” she answered, as she collected some more charts. “If you're lucky, we won't meet again. If not, I'll see you later, Mr. MacDagget.”
“Wait a minute,” said Jon, as he felt his body relax. “How-how did ya know my na-... my name?”
He received no answer, as darkness took him again.
10 years ago
Jon was on his knees, at the foot of the church steps, as he hovered over the body of a dead nun; blood flowing onto the sidewalk from a bullet wound in her forehead. The gun in his hand shook, as his whole body trembled. His eyes were wide and his breath continually left him.
“What the hell's wrong with you?” asked Tombstone, as he casually exited the church, while wiping blood from his alabaster hands. “Job's done, lets go.”
Jon gritted his teeth, as he dropped the gun and clenched his fist. As he stood, he turned on his heel and planted a punch across Tombstone's face; knocking onto the church steps. Jon didn't notice the split skin across his knuckles, as he scooped up his gun and aimed it at his partner.
“Ya son-of-a-bitch!” screamed Jon.
“What the hell, Jon?” asked Tombstone, as he rubbed his cheek. “You lost your mind or something?”
“All ya had to do was wait! She'd be alive, if ya'd have waited!!”
“What? The nun? Jeez Jonny-boy; it's just son broad in a habit.”
Jon leaped atop Tombstone, as he pressed the barrel against his left eye. “She was innocent! She was innocent and now she's dead! She's fu—ing dead, because of you!!!”
Tombstone just smiled, as he stared at him with his uncovered eye. “Last time I check, you're the one who's holdin' the gun.”
Jon was taken aback, as his grip on the gun wavered. Tombstone took the advantage and knocked it away, before he grabbed him by the throat and lifted him off the ground, as he stood. With little effort, he raised Jon higher and slammed into into the sidewalk; next to the nun.
Jon stared at the sky above, while dazed; more from the realization tombstone was right. It was his fault. He'd fired at her without looking and it was his fault she laid there; dead by his own hands.
Tombstone knelt beside him, as he flashed his shark-like smile. “This isn't a movie, Jon. We're not good guys. We kill people; it's what we do.”
He reached down and grabbed the collar of Jon's coat.
“You're no saint, Jonny-boy,” said Tombstone, as he ripped Jon's coat; revealing a priest's collar. He plucked it from Jon's shirt and held it inches from Jon's face.
“This isn't real,” stated Tombstone. “It's part of the shtick Manfredi gave you; just like every other mook on his payroll.”
Jon shook his head, as he stated, “It doesn't matter. She was innocent and now she's dead because of... because of me.”
“So? She won't be the last.”
“Yes she is,” said Jon. “No more; I'm done.”
Tombstone snickered, as he stood. “Tell yourself that all you want. Doesn't change the fact we're killers; it's in our nature.”
“To hell with ya, Lonnie,” Jon said, as he rolled onto his side – opposite the nun – and got to his feet. “No more. I'm done killing for Silvio. I'm done with him... and I'm done with the likes of you.”
Tombstone opened his mouth to counter, but Jon just turned and walked away.
“Where you gonna go, Jonny?” Tombstone called to him. “Huh? It's not like you can just leave whenever ya like.”
Sirens howled in the distance, as Jon continued walking away.
“Jonny!” Tombstone yelled. “Jonny, get back here! Jonny! Jonny?! Jon!! Jon!!! CLERIC!!!!”
Jon awoke in his apartment; Tombstone's voice still ringing in his ears. He looked all around him to find nothing disturbed or missing. The pill bottle Dr. Castillo had given him laid atop his bedside table, with a note leaned against it.
It read: “Guns are under the bed. Do not use your powers!!!”
Jon rolled out of bed and winced at the sharp pain that jolted up his arm; which he then realized was in a sling. He grabbed the bottle and walked into the kitchen for a glass of water. As he downed his pills, his eyes fell on the garment bag hanging in the closet.
Cleric... he remembered the name well; after all, it was the name Manfredi gave him, when he began killing for him. It was like an unwritten rule that once you showed any signs of being special, you had to have some kind of tacky name; like the vigilantes and super criminals. Since Jon once had the habit of quoting verses from the bible, he was given the monicker of Cleric; something Manfredi found as a fitting irony for his enemies, before they died.
Long before that fateful night on the church steps, Jon had been a devote Catholic; even while killing under the orders of Silvio Manfredi. He'd justified it by telling himself all those he killed had it coming; that while he had blood on his hands and worked for a criminal, it was a means to an end. He was able to provide for his family and punish the wicked; being a hit man was just a lesser evil he would endure.
All that was gone, after that night. Jon left Susan and Joseph that very night; leaving them a note confessing to running away with a woman who he loved more. Though it was for their safety, he did it more out of shame.
Jon walked to his closet and unzipped the garment bag. Inside was his long black coat – still torn at the neck – with the rest of his Cleric attire underneath it; only the collar was missing. He felt sick to his stomach, as he gazed upon it.
He slammed the closet door shut, as he tried to keep the memories from flooding his mind; there were other matters to attend to. Even with the doctor's good advice, he couldn't stay in bed until he was completely healed; something big was brewing somewhere in the city and something needed to be done about it.
He knelt beside the bed and reached under the bed, as he said, “Once more inta' the breach, I guess.”
He grabbed his guns and some spare clips from the case, before he took a shower and changed into some fresh clothes. He poured some of his pain pills into a baggy and slipped them into his pocket; just in case.
In an alley across town, a man with slick jet-black hair sat in a van, as he read the Daily Bugle. He jostled a toothpick between his teeth, as he took a yellow marker and underlined several paragraphs within the article about the recent gang shootings.
Suddenly, a young man was beside the driver side door, holding a gun through the open window; pressed against the man's head.
“Get the f**k out and gimme your wallet,” he barked, as he pressed the barrel harder.
The man sighed, as he opened the door and stepped out. He was adorned in a black leather coat – buttoned over his chest – and jeans. He held his hands loose in the air.
“Come on man, gimme the wallet.”
“It's inside my coat,” said the man.
The overzealous young man reached out with his free hand and pulled the coat open. He froze, when he discovered a white skull on the man's worn black shirt. He looked at the man, with a quivering lip, as he tried to speak.
In an instant, the man knocked the carjacker's gun out of his hands and grabbed him by the throat. Just as quickly, he yanked him forward and slammed his head against the van door. Without stopping, he grabbed the back of his head and continually smashed his face into the door.
The man finally pulled the carjacker away from the van and smiled at him. He withdrew his toothpick and gently slid it up the jacker's nose, before giving him a wink and slamming him into the door one more time.
As the carjacker's body fell to the ground, the man got back into the van and continued reading the paper. As he highlighted more paragraphs, he reached into the center console and grabbed another toothpick. He spotted the name Betty Brant in the byline and marked it.
“Lets get started,” he said aloud, as he pulled out of the alley. “Welcome home Frank.”