Scene 1: Preying
As part of her recent nightly routine, Alex Mercer watched from across the street as Henry Shen stepped out from his doorway with his briefcase and firmly locked the door behind him, oblivious to her shadow across the street cast by the streetlights. She saw the gold chain’s glint dangling around his neck as it swung. Embedded around his eyes was his occipital interface – titanium that ran around his orbits like metallic eyeliner.
Across the street, the fleeting glow of Alex’s cigarette crumbled to ash when she rose, keeping a watchful distance. Alex followed Shen through San Francisco’s Chinatown night market, passing vendors selling cheap imitation sneakers and jackets, the trendiest synthskin coatings, and a lavish suit store. In front of a twisted, blooming cherry blossom tree, the pink petals scattered across the damp ground, trampled into smears by unaware pedestrians. Shen stopped in the marketplace center. Alex paused, hiding near a vendor selling opulent knock-off purses. Just get on with it already. Her restless hand instinctively slid down to her holster. Quit prolongin’ the inevitable. Shen casually glanced down at his watch, then turned left into the ever-growing homogeneous sea of pedestrians.
Pushing her way through the fleshy tides, she caught a glimpse of Shen as he disappeared further into the crowd. Her nose twitched as it caught a whiff of soy sauce, a brackish aroma that made her stomach howl. She thought about gorging herself, but losing him would leave her with one pissed-off Woozie… and a visit from Mr. Sun. Fuck that idea.
Shen’s head swiveled, eyes scanning the surrounding faces, and dipped into an alleyway behind the Lemon Grass restaurant. Its grimy yellow neon letters flickered as Alex lurked close behind the wall, bathed in shadows, watching. He knocked three times, and the back door flung open. When it slammed shut, she scurried over, then pressed her ear to the door. It was a mixture of muffled shouts, cheerful laughter, and chairs scraping across the floor. Her eye darted around the alleyway, and she found a fire escape that led up onto the roof, giving her the perfect vantage point.
As she climbed up the creaking rungs, Alex rubbed the corroded flakes off her hands when she reached the roof. In the middle was a pyramid-shaped skylight with a window conveniently propped open. The voices became clearer. The night concealed her every step as she snuck over to watch them from above like an ominous raven. Cloaked in the night’s sable embrace, she counted a pack of several triads down below in the kitchen.
Four triads sat around a mahjong table in the middle of what appeared to be a tense game. Two others stood near the back door, doing a damn fine job of guarding the place. Off in the corner, muffled by hissing freezers, Woozie was pulled away, engaged in a hushed conversation with another triad. Looking down at her prey, Alex smirked. There you are, Shen. I’ve only seen you from a distance, but you dress like a cat trynna be a lion. An old-school purple pinstripe suit with a flimsy piece of shit gold chain necklace dangling above your chest, shaped like an S. What a fuckin’ jackass!
Shen was conversing with a bald man in Chinese who had a dour expression and wore a stained beater with orange track pants. Sallow skin was replaced by coral-colored synthskin at the knuckle. To top it all off, a black dragon spiraled around his throat. His eyes honed onto the briefcase. He ushered Shen along and yelled at the four playing mahjong to move. One of them mumbled something that Alex couldn’t understand and was promptly silenced with a swift smack to the head. The boss eagerly patted the table, and Shen placed the briefcase down.
Alex’s nose flared, eyes fixated on her prey, blood ignited into a fervor as she anticipated their deaths. Can’t wait to see their terrified faces! Love it so much! They all huddled around him as he pulled the key from his pocket and turned the lock. Neatly stacked green towers sprang up. The boss with the dragon tattoo buried his greedy hands into the missing money. What kinda asshole steals from honest, hardworkin’ whores who barely speak English? For a few nights, watching those working girls had unearthed childhood memories Alex thought she buried. Waking up on a foreign, isolated island in the South China Sea, Alex vividly remembered being alone, confused, abandoned. When I was a kid, no one was there for me. They’re just makin’ money to survive in this cruel world.
With her yearning veins screaming, she climbed back down the ladder and waited at the back door, hand on her waist. Her fist tightened as she swung. Three knocks interrupted the premature fun. The door opened just enough to reveal Alex’s scarred face under the pale moonlight. A fresh claw-mark slashed across her exposed abdomen. A second deep one ran vertically through her right eye, stopping at the tip of her nose. The last one was barely visible through her maroon camisole. Only the curved start was visible, slithering down the left shoulder to her chest. Each scar was a different story told across a pastel battlefield. Dark rosewood hair parted over her right eye, flowing down her shoulders. Striking emerald eyes gazed indifferently. The boss dismissively waved his hand, laughing to ease his guards. Lowering their guns, they nebbishly joined in.
The boss yanked the door open more, undressing Alex with a lecherous gaze. Disgusted, Alex shivered. It feels like worms burrowin’ under my skin. Alex gagged as he draped his arm around her shoulder. The cold touch of his synthskin on hers felt like coarse sandpaper. Servojoints whirred in her ear. “Shen, I didn’t know you bought me a slut from your stable. And she’s a gweilo too. Haven’t had a gweilo in a long fucking time. Other than the fucked up face, I’d say she’s gonna suck my cock dry.”
Shen blinked, studying her. “She’s not one of my girls. I don’t know who she is,” he insisted.
The boss’s curious hand glided down her shoulders, but before they could thoroughly explore, she snatched his wrist, holding it like a vice grip. She felt her veins ignite with a fiery disgust. Amused by her temerity, he burst into laughter. Lust filled his eyes as they dilated. “I don’t care who she is or where she came from. Someone’s gonna get fucked tonight!” He pulled Alex closer, breaking free from her grasp. His lips split open with joy, revealing pearly yellow teeth.
God, he smells like rotted piss left out in the sun, Alex thought with a dry heave.
“Since none of you know how to show a woman a good time properly… I’ll take the responsibility of making her scream.” He winked at his sycophants as Alex reached for her waist. “Am I right...?” A Bowie’s hilt plunged into his chest, blood pouring in scarlet waves.
Shen trembled, pale as fresh snow. “Wait!”
The vivid black ink on her chest came to life as she stepped over the corpse. It was one of the many tattoos adorning Alex’s skin. Perched on a skull, a raven spread its’ midnight wings.
Shen slammed the briefcase shut when he glanced at the tattoo on her right forearm. Death roamed a quiet forest, the naked trees shuddering. He hugged the suitcase tightly and whimpered as he stared at her left shoulder. It was a tattoo of a moon rising above a beastly silhouette, howling. With his back against the wall, he slid down, terrified. “Damnit! It’s her! It’s her!” He was practically in tears. “She’s the one on Woozie’s payroll! M-Mercer! Alex Mercer!” The lackeys didn’t know how to react.
Their trembling hands reached for their holsters, eyes wide with pure unadulterated dread. How sweet! Alex silently moaned, but her sole focus was on Shen. He quaked as if his skin was melting off his bones from the fear and looked at the window. Grabbing a chair, he threw it. The glass exploded, and Shen recklessly jumped through. Fresh blood dripped from the jagged edges. Alex groaned, turned, and pursued her prey.
Outside, a thin blood trail led down the grungy bricked alleyway, forming sanguine smears. The walls opened up into some businesses and restaurants away from the night market. Flies buzzed around leaking dumpsters, lightbulbs flickered, shattered, hanging onto dim life, and a sewer grate spat up a rotten, musky stomach-churning reek that made her lightheaded. Alex gagged at the miasma assaulting her nose. Slowly raising her head, her stomach calmed, her eyes honed in on a series of curved droplets leading behind a dumpster. A gust of wind carried muffled whimpers.
Shen backed himself against the wall, rocking, his eyes sullen yet frail. His arms shook as he tried to aim his .22 caliber pistol – a gun carried by hookers. Anxious tears ran down his cheeks as he hopelessly clicked. Alex’s menacing shadow grew under the sentinel moonlight, consuming his rattled body, blood trickling down her face.
Steadily Alex raised her gun, eyes down the sights as she eased her anxious trigger finger.
“P-please, please, you don’t want to do this!” he begged, cowering.
Alex approached, aiming. Shen squirmed. “You done fucked up, Shen. One of the biggest mistakes you’ve made in the past few days besides rippin’ off your former laoban, jackass. Be thankful it’s me and not Mr. Sun. We both know what happens when he shows up.”
Shen held the briefcase out, arms shaking. “Half!” he blurted. “Take half of the money, and I’ll disappear from San Francisco completely. You have my word.”
Alex rolled her eyes. “First beggin’, now a bribe. You’re fuckin’ pathetic. You know that?”
“T-then take the w-whole thing!” He sobbed, bowing like he was awaiting his execution.
“Honestly, I couldn’t care less about you or what you’ve done. A contract’s a contract, and someone’s gotta get a bullet to the head either way.”
Tears streamed down his reddened cheeks. “Why me?” he meekly murmured.
Studying the pathetic Shen, Alex thought to herself. Why do they always ask questions when confronted with death? I’ll never fuckin’ know. Look down the barrel, and they always break down, askin’ what they did to deserve their cruel fate. It’s like they’ve never been alive. They use old memories to numb the pain. Pisses me off.
Witnessing his dismay transported Alex back to a more vulnerable time, she tried adamantly to forget. After attempting to settle into her new surroundings of the island, Alex found herself living amongst a group of other fraught, emaciated guttersnipes. Those cruel days were worse when the moon usurped the sun, and the twilight was just out of reach. Swollen eyes stung the more she cried herself to sleep, but she found no solace in her dreams. The sporadic pained wails of other kids calling out to ghosts jolted her awake throughout the night. Her ravenous stomach moaned, clawing for sustenance. When she turned for comfort, her bruises and scrapes flared.
Alex naively grasped onto the notion of someone coming to save her, if anyone out there cared. Listening to the others, it sounded like they had given up on life. As if waiting for death to quietly roll into the night so they could go with innocent dreams. She abhorred how powerless she felt. She didn’t want to become another body claimed by the vicious streets of Toppanga. Something awoke inside her. Instead, she mustered her resolve, vowing to one day reach the apex. She refused to wither in order to live. Rather than falling prey to life, she’d be the predator. Thank God Mother Gaile stopped Katrina from putting a bullet in my head after I failed to rob the church.
“Please… I’m begging you…” Shen pleaded.
His incessant whimpering chased the ghosts away. “Well, you shoulda thought about how precious your life was before you went and did this, jackass. Steal from someone, they get pissed and send me in to collect. Life doesn’t give a single shit about any of us. We all die sooner or later. It’s a never endin’ vicious cycle. And for you, you get to die right now.”
Chains echoed. Alex tilted her head toward the sound. Silver moonlight darted above the rooftops. Above, a lone silhouette stood on the rooftops, observing. Alex shifted her barrel’s gaze to the intruder just as a steel dervish twirled, lashing the night sky with its blades.