The snow hasn’t always been this bad in Asgard. When the city was founded, it was cold,
yes, but only in the last fifty years or so did it get to snowing full time. Everyone and their
mother had a reason for it: from global warming to some sign of the apocalypse. Myself, I have
a theory, and one I’d shared with my father when I was fifteen. I told him that God was suffering
from Post-Partum Depression. God was trying to slowly drown us with the kind of careful,
absent-minded, neglect of a man with an unruly pet leaving for a week without feeding it.
My father, then a thirty nine year old SWAT sergeant and a devout catholic to boot, had
stared silently at me for a full five minutes before smacking me in the side of the head.
Still, as I walked down the deserted street, watching small snow devils race through the
drifts of powder like hyperactive children, I had to admit there was something, if not beautiful,
then scenic about the weather. As I watched small flakes march through the sky to land in the
clear streets and dance along as the wind blew them gently away, it was almost peaceful.
I would have enjoyed it more without the damn sweater my shrink had suggested
wearing after my, “little accident”, as he was fond of calling it. With every meeting I’d been to in
the past three months I’d felt myself drifting further and further away from him. With a little
Freudian beard, jackets with the elbows replaced, and a name so damned German I felt like I
was coughing it out everything time I said it, he was far and away the last person I wanted in my
head. I’d even stopped calling him by his name, and simply referred to him as “Shrinky-Dink” at
the beginning and end of every session. I doubted he was aware of the little twitch his eye
made at the sound of it.
In the part of town I was living in, it would have looked out of place seeing a six-foot-five,
three hundred pound man walking around in a t-shirt and jeans. The streets were empty of any
parked cars, (nobody in the neighborhood could afford one, anyway.) The buildings were all
plain, insulated stone so cracked and pitted it was a surprise anyone could live in them. Not one
of the buildings were above five floors, and many of the apartments above two were vacant due
to poor heating units.
“The sweater,” Shrinky-Dink drawled from his posh, Italian, leather chair, “will help you
adjust to being part of the crowd again.”
I’d have to have a little talk with him about the fact that my hand was so busy being out
of sight that it made me the perfect target for the young woman who slipped out of the alley to
my right and settled the barrel of a gun in my lower back. I was pretty sure that wasn’t his
intention, because wearing the sweater was already irritating enough without the threat of
digesting a bullet with my hand stuffed ineffectively in my pocket.
“Can I help you, miss?” I asked, more curious than anything. In a pair of ragged jeans and
a sweater, I wasn’t exactly shouting out “rich”, so I doubted I was being robbed.
“Look to your left, Chief,” the voice behind me spoke, her tone lacking any emotion. I
shuddered. Passionate people make mistakes, but someone who sounded like they didn’t care,
they were dangerous. I looked to my left.
It wasn’t immediately clear what she wanted me to see until I looked at the building
across the street and a little ways up. On the third floor of the apartments, in the third window
from the end, was a man waving at me in an overtly cheerful manner. He was short, squat, and
mean in a way I hadn’t seen since I’d seen the wolfish grin on Fenton’s face. He was wearing a
plain white t-shirt, and had a young woman in a chokehold, a knife pointed at her throat.
“That woman’s name is Norah Raines, and she has two children in the apartment. Both
of them are locked in their rooms and their father left for work an hour ago.” She spoke in such
a clear, precise manner, that I had no doubt that she had planned this all out, and a cold rage
bubbled up inside me like heartburn.
“You’re going to do everything I say, because if you don’t then someone is going to get
hurt. If you think for a second it’s just going to be you paying for any stunt, then you are sadly
mistaken. Now let me ask you, Chief,” she jabbed the gun barrel into my back for emphasis,
“Does Graham up there need to get creative, or are you going to be a gentleman for me?”
For half a second, I considered making her eat her own gun and going up there to make
sure “Graham” never threatened another family again. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
Images of things falling apart on me, of things left unfinished because of poor judgment,
stopped me and I felt my shoulders slump in submission.
“What do you want, miss…?”
“Helena, and nothing illegal,” she said, shuffling around behind me. I imagined her
finding a creative place to hide the gun so she could mow me down at the slightest provocation.
This didn’t seem like a woman who took chances, even with gentlemen. “We’re just going to
make a little withdrawal from the bank.”
Helena moved around to my right side, and I got my first real glimpse of her. She was
pretty for a sociopath, in a cold, cruel kind of way. She wore a plain gray button down coat that
went down to her knees, covering a pair of thick work jeans. Her shoes were a kind of brave
stiletto boot, and I had to admire that she could walk on the ice covered sidewalks.
She had long, silver blond hair that cascaded down her back in a glistening sheet. Her
nose was a delicate button, and she had a full, pleasant face, marred entirely by the dead look
in her eyes as she looked at me. Her eyes were a shade of green I’d never seen before, almost
the color of dirty ocean water, or sewer sludge.
Well, I shouldn’t say “entirely marred”. The scars pretty much took care of the rest. From
scalp to her exposed neck, from nose to ear: the entire left side of her face was viciously burned
and ravaged. The skin was thick and irritated red where it wasn’t crisscrossed by dead brown
skin reminiscent of under-dried jerky. What were worse were the pockmarked sections of
chemical burns interspersed across her cheek. There was no doubt that all of this had been
intentionally done. It had all the marks of a sadist.
For the first time, Helena’s face lit up with emotion. Joy transformed her right side from
pretty, to damned near beautiful, and made the left side into a menagerie of horror.
“Pretty, isn’t it?” She smiled up at me. It was clear she was enjoying my discomfort. “It’s
one of those ‘man with no shoes’ moments for you, I’m sure. Now as you well know, a
gentleman always holds a lady’s arm on their walk.”
I growled deep in my chest, but did as she asked, grimacing in discomfort as I took my
arm out of my pocket. Helena watched, a look of eager anticipation on her face as my wrist
escaped the confines of the sweater. The end of my wrist, freshly bandaged before I’d left the
apartment, ached in the cold. The jagged remains of my right hand had long ago healed from
their stitches, but even mild weather made the stump painfully sensitive. My physical therapist
swore my insurance covered a prosthetic and would help with the sensitivity, but honestly, I
didn’t see the point. As I watched her, Helena shivered a bit, smiling to herself before placing
her arm around mine, the tips of her fingers caressing the edges of the bandages.
“Spectacular,” she crooned, humming a bit to herself. “Well, let’s be off.”