A cold, moonless night with a slight drizzle of rain set the tone for bad things to come. The big black Escalade roared down the long, black, serpentine I-77 highway toward Sugar Creek road where a neighborhood hole-in-the-wall, rump-shaking club lived. The destination: the Viper lounge, where men went to get their drink on and find female companionship. It wasn't a rump-shaking club, but what went on in the private rooms stayed in the private rooms. A little after midnight and they were making good time since the interstate wasn't busy.
Big Ben, not in the mood for drinking or women, focused on what happened to his friend, Al McGee. Riding shotgun was the man Pone recommended to help him with his problem, a man named Mercury Slim. For three months, Mercury played the gracious host to Ben while working on friend's disappearance. During their time together, Mercury remained a mystery to Ben.
Mercury joked he worked as an under-the-radar P.I.; his name was not listed in the phone book or on the internet. There was nothing commercial about him; he did, however, charge a fee ranging from one to ten thousand dollars to get the job done, depending on the client and type of job. Ben assumed when Mercury had hinted about it, depending on the client and the job, he had meant how dangerous the job was, and a missing person could be dangerous since his friend was a hired killer and got into something he couldn't get out of.
Therefore, his disappearance could mean the six o'clock news reporting about a body found in a ditch or wooded area fitting his friend's attributes. Mercury could tell whether a client had money to spend and Ben did. Ben paid ten thousand and waited for the results of his investment. With a good feeling in his breadbasket, Ben hoped Mercury would prove to be as good as advertised.
In the month's Ben spent with Mercury, he knew Mercury owned the biggest house on the block, but overall, a modest house. If he did make a lot of money, the house didn't give off any impression of wealth. He put his money into his late model Mercury Cougar in mint condition and to keep it in good shape. Ben considered Mercury a unique man.
A chef and domestic around the house, he said he had inherited these traits from his from his grandmother. Her photos decorated the walls and mantel, and he liked walking around the house in his Buck Naked brand boxers. Ben didn't care to see Mercury in his underwear, but since he was staying as a guest, he couldn't complain.
Mercury Slim, his birth name, and not because he drove a Mercury and had a slender build. However, he gave Ben plenty of information on what they were up against. Mercury made most of the trips to the night-club in which he got close and personal with a young woman name Unique. There are times when a woman of pleasure forgets her code of being a professional. She fancies a man and gives him more attention than he pays for. Mercury became Unique's fan, and vice versa.
She liked him enough to tell him whatever he wanted to know about the establishment and the woman called Black Medusa. Mercury also used his contacts to dig deeper into the club owner's past. He informed Ben about Medusa's background; she had a talent for taxidermy, and the more he heard about the strange woman, the tale of Medusa got darker and more disturbing. Her mother had died when she had been very young. Medusa took up the womanly duties of the house, including pleasing the men: her father and older brother.
“You sure that's true?" Ben asked.
"My sources don't lie," said Mercury.
"Shit," Ben snorted. "That's enough to make anybody lose it."
Mercury was glad for the conversation, no matter how disturbing; it made a long ride shorter.
"Don't make it right if she's done what I think she's done."
"You saying she killed Al?"
“From what Unique told me, she has it in for men who mistreat women," said Mercury.
"Al didn't believe in playing husband and father... shit'd, I just hope he ain't dead. What else this girl told you?"
Mercury sighed. "She heard some of the other girls talking about Medusa having a son, but she didn't raise him. Some relative up north raised the boy and he has a trust fund." He frowned wondering if her son was the product of incest.
"You figure she sent him away because she despised men?" Ben questioned.
Mercury nodded. "Pretty much. She wouldn't be a good influence on a girl either."
Ben swallowed hard. "Don't tell me the daddy or brother killed the father?"
Mercury shrugged. "I hope neither, but if she spared the kid sending him to live with a relative, then she must have a heart.”
Ben grunted. "If that girl told all that then she must be got your dick.”
“She sounded scared and wanted out, and I said I would help her.”
“Just quit and leave.”
“Come on, Ben. You know when you're around somebody that's corrupt it ain't that simple.”
“Yeah, hate that shit when they say you know too much.”
Mercury nodded. "That's when I got suspicious.”
“Hold up! How you know this girl wasn't pumping you for information and told Medusa about you?”
“How do you know your friend went to the Viper Lounge?”
Ben took out his cell and showed the text message. "Wanted me to join him, but I declined. Now I wish I had.”
Mercury nodded. “Okay.”
“That girl going to be there tonight?”
“I told her to stay home.”
Ben snorted. “We going to kill these people?”
Mercury let out a short laugh. “About that, that's you and Chubby's thing. I don't go around putting people six feet under.”
“What? You better than us?”
“I'm not a cold-blooded killer.”
“But you have killed?”
Mercury swallowed hard. “Only when I had to.”
Ben studied Mercury. "Shit'd.”
Mercury kept quiet. He didn't want his response to upset Ben. Anger makes a man do foolish things, and for what they were about to do, Mercury needed Ben to have a cool head. He changed the subject.
“So Ben, the pro bonos talk they way they do?”
“What do you mean?”
“You know, do they say, 'Youse guys going to do things my way see'?”
Ben roared with laughter. “Pro bonos and hip-hoppers, some of them fools try to keep it real, but they might as well talk like you and me.”
“Trying to belong, huh?”
“If you already in then you should already know,” said Ben.
“Glad I live the suburban life.”
“You ain't never met one of them in your neighborhood?” Ben asked.
“Have you met my nosy neighbor across the street, Mrs. Crabtree?”
Ben frowned. “She worse than a watchdog.”
“Barbecue and backyard cookouts and I'm fine with that.”
“Hey I ain't mad at you,” said Ben.
Their conversation faded as they arrived at the Viper Lounge. In the past couple of months, every time Mercury had seen it at night, it looked more like a house of horrors. A grand square black stone box with one door the same color.
A tomb, thought Mercury.
It was two AM, closing time, the time Mercury came each time he visited the lounge.
The Escalade came to a stop.
“What's the plan?” Ben asked.
Mercury scoped out the area. A few cars parked in front of the building, and he hoped it belonged to employees. He also hoped Unique took his advice to stay home.
“Got to improvise this. That means...“
“You going to get our asses killed making this shit up as we go along,” Ben growled.
"Anyway, I'll go up pretending I forgot my wallet,” Mercury reached into his back pocket and placed his wallet in one of the cup holders.
Ben shook his head. “No weapons, right?”
“Again, you going to get our asses killed."
Mercury acted as if Ben hadn't said a word. "She has a muscular bartender with a shotgun under the bar and four goons that I know are packing.”
“How you know the bartender got a shotgun under the bar?” Ben asked.
“Cliche,” remarked Mercury.
“And we going in empty-handed?”
“Bum-rushing the place would lead to a shoot out... what? You don't like my plan?”
“Shit'd... a plan on the fly don't sound good to me.”
“I brought you this far big man.”
The two men stared at each other for a moment. Mercury blinked.
“Okay, it's showtime. Just wait until I get the guy at the door inside, make your move, and let your instincts tell you what to do,”
Mercury made his way to the entrance. Sure enough, he pretended he had left his wallet, and the bouncer did his part to keep him out of the club. The goon was a tall, thick man, but Mercury fended him off, making it inside the lounge. Ben shook his head. He saw the chiseled six-two, one-seventy-five Mercury in his boxers, so it didn't surprise him if he could take care of himself and handle the goon with ease.
Ben knew there was more to the man than he had let on. With Mercury now inside, Ben had the cue to do his thing. Ben stood at the entrance checking out the area. Mercury cleared him a safe passage to get in position. He saw four thick goons in black suits and a thick broad-shouldered bartender matching them in size. He heard Mercury at the bar arguing about getting a drink.
“Look, man, I'm thirsty... saw y'all lights on and decided to come in,” Mercury scanned the club: the bartender in front of him behind the bar, a man behind him, one at the door, and two flanking him. "No wonder this place is empty the way you treat your customers.”
“You told me you forgot your wallet,” said Goon One.
“What? I can't look for my wallet and get a drink?”
“How you going pay for that drink if you ain't got no money?” the bartender asked.
"I got money if I find my wallet," Mercury snorted. "You can give me a tab, or how about a drink on the house. Act nice and I'll tell people about this place," He smiled.
"How about y'all help me look for it. Got to be around here someplace. We find it and I can buy a drink."
Goon One grunted, "If it had credit cards and cash, then it's long gone."
Mercury slapped the counter. "Damn! What's wrong with people now-days? Would if hurt for somebody to be honest?"
Goon One inhaled. "Look, man..."
"And I carry cash no credit cards because you just borrowing money when you use cards. So help me find my wallet and then I can pay for a drink," said Mercury.
The bartender folded his arms. "We're closed, so get the hell out of here or get jacked up."
Mercury slapped the top of the bar again. "That's why I want a drink, so I can get jacked up."
Bartender chuckled. "We got us a comedian, fellas. Show mister funny man what we mean."
Ben was tired of waiting. The goon at the door stood with his back turned. At about six-nine, Ben had no problem apprehending the six-five goon. He grabbed the man by the neck. A sickening crack followed as he went down like a puppet with loose strings.
"What the hell?" said the bartender, getting moon-eyed when he saw what had happened.
He reached under the bar, grabbing a sawed-off shotgun. Mercury's cliche or urban legend proved true. Ben dropped to a knee, using the dead man as a shield. Everything from that point went on in slow motion. Ben got to see Mercury go to work, and from what he saw, he knew the man possessed special skills.
A side kick delivered by Mercury to Goon One's shin, scraping down with his heel to a foot stamp, caused Goon One great pain. The bartender turned his attention to Mercury but didn't fire trying, to avoid shooting his own man. Mercury took advantage, and figuring they all carried firearms, reached inside the man's coat and pulled out a Glock. He grabbed Goon One, whirling him around, and the man took the full blast of the buck-shot to the chest.
Before the bartender could reload, he ended up with his back against the wall, leaving blood and brain matter on it. Mercury placed a bullet between his eyes. With two more goons at large, Ben used the time Mercury gave him to find his own Glock on the body of Goon Two. Mercury turned over a table and hid behind it while Ben used Goon Two as a shield from a barrage of bullets.
Once the storm cleared, Ben put three bullets in the chest of Goon Three. Goon Four concentrated on Mercury, putting holes through the table he hid behind. When Goon Four ran out of bullets, Mercury took his turn, but the Glock jammed a common occurrence with Glocks. Mercury tossed it away with cat quickness, and he rushed to Goon Four, getting hip to hip while he grabbed his gun hand. He locked his extended arm and twisted the goon's wrist, disarming him.
Ben wanted to put an end to the action but also wanted to watch Mercury work. Goon Four acted big and clumsy, while Mercury seemed confident and comfortable with hand-to-hand combat. Goon Four gave a hay-maker swing trying to end it all, but Mercury blocked it with his right hand. In the same motion, he connected to Goon Four's jaw, followed by a backhand with the same fist, then a left hook of his own that made the goon spit up blood, dropping him to a knee.
Mercury was disciplined, smooth, fast, and direct with bad intentions. Ordinary man my ass, thought Ben. Mercury had trained as a fighter, maybe military by the looks of things. Goon Four knew something didn't feel right, and like a raging bull, he charged, grabbing Mercury around the waist, forcing him back hard against the bar.
Ben watched Mercury grimace in pain, but he regained his composure. He trapped Goon Four with a front headlock, putting leverage on his opponent's neck. Mercury applied enough pressure, forcing Goon Four to arch his back like a camel. A precise knee sent to the man's groin followed by a sharp elbow to the spine made Goon Four's legs trembled as if he had lost feeling in them.
He released Mercury from his waist-high bear hug. With the man stunned, Mercury placed his chin on the edge of the bar. He lifted his leg like a Rockette, bringing down the heel on the back of his neck, crushing the man's throat. Goon Four crumpled to the floor.
"So much for not killing," said Ben.
Mercury glared. "Let's finish this shit,"
"Music to my ears," said Ben.
Unique had told Mercury about a hallway door near the back exit that read "Employees Only." She had said it was where Medusa and her goon squad entered. Unique and the other girls never went inside the room. Mercury stood in front of the door with Ben behind him. He tried the knob... locked.
Ben nudged Mercury aside and kicked it in. "It's opened now."
Just as the two men were about to enter, single shots were fired, and they jumped to opposite sides of the door. Mercury saw a camera over on the far wall. He pointed it out to Ben. Ben shot the camera. Mercury took a quick look inside the room, and from what he could tell by glancing in, the door led to a basement. Mercury saw a stairwell thanks to the hall light.
"Unless you got a box full of ammo, that revolver won't help you hold us off," said Mercury.
"Give up, bitch!" Ben roared.
More shots fired towards them.
"Way to go you, sweet talker, you. Who's going to get us killed now?" Mercury questioned.
"So I ain't no damn diplomat," Ben glowered. "How you know she holding a revolver?"
"The woman is old and frail. She can't handle the kick a Glock gives you. With that being said, I want you to count the shots."
Ben frowned. "How many she fired already?"
Mercury shrugged. "I lost count talking to you."
"I see why Pone likes you," grinned Ben. "What are you going to do?"
"I got a plan."
Ben rolled his eyes. "Now you got a plan?"
"Be the snake in the sticking it's head out of the grass."
"Just be ready to count."
Ben shook his head. "Ready when you are a smart ass."
Mercury ducked his head in the doorway and backed out. Shots fired. He did it again, and more shots fired.
Mercury shook his head. "Charles Bronson told an adversary he could count all the way up to three."
"Six if I have to," said Ben. "Once Upon A Time In The West.”
Mercury gave him a look. "It's nice to know you can count."
Mercury looked in again, but this time he darted like a big cat down the basement stairs. Ben lumbered behind, searching the walls for the switch. When the lights came on,, it left the big man with his eyes wide and mouth open. Mercury got the drop on Medusa. A sound like clanking on the floor made him make his move. He saw shells and the witch trying to reload. Mercury grabbed her by the wrist.
"Put the gun down. It's over," said Mercury.
The frail charcoal woman did as instructed. Mercury let her go grabbing the gun and bullets.
"You see this shit?" Ben asked.
According to Greek mythology, Medusa was a hideous witch-faced creature with scales for skin, serpentine eyes, a snake body, and hair of lively serpents. Once men saw her face, they turned to stone. Mercury shook his head. What he saw wasn't men of stone, they didn't even look like mannequins. They were dead and wore the same clothes they had on when they had entered the club, now her personal trophies.
Vivian Grooms, this modern day Medusa, lived up to her name and used her taxidermy talents in the sickest way. Mercury counted at least twenty men dressed in the clothes of their demise standing on boxed mantles with their names intact. They all wore the same expression on all their faces, as they had died of suffocation. The room was creepier than a wax museum.
Mercury focused on the relic woman. A true Medusa.
"Fuck!" Ben came racing like a freight train.
"Hold up, big man. Hold up," said Mercury.
"That bitch got to die... she got to die!" said Ben.
Mercury stood in front of Ben. He looked over his shoulder at Medusa. If she feared the giant, she didn't show it. Mercury assumed that Ben found his friend Al McGee. He turned to Medusa. Her amber eyes looked like they wanted to pop out of their sockets.
"Why?" asked Mercury.
"They didn't know how to treat women. They were rough with my girls," she said.
Mercury shook his head. "If they were rough, you had four big ass men that could handle telling them not to come back. I'm sure they would have listened," Mercury spun around pointing at the victims. He recognized some of the poor souls from news reports about men missing and he knew they had families.
"This is just wrong," said Mercury.
"Damn that shit! Al didn't deserve this," said Ben.
"Perhaps you didn't know your friend," said Medusa.
Ben shoved Mercury aside and wrapped his hands around Medusa's throat. Her neck looked like a broom handle between his fingers.
Mercury grabbed Ben's arm. "Damn Ben, no more killing."
"She deserves to die."
Mercury looked at Medusa. Her eyes started bulging. "I promise she will pay, but not this way. Let her go... Ben!"
"Not until her last breath."
Mercury didn't know whether he could take Ben in a fair fight, nor did he want to know. He thought words could reach a mind if it opened to reason, and Mercury hoped Ben contained a reasonable mind.
"Ben, I don't know how it works in your world, but if you kill this frail old woman, it makes you look like a punk. I give my word she will pay."
Ben released his grip and Medusa dropped to the floor. Mercury helped her to a chair.
"What are you going to do?" Ben asked.
Mercury saw a black relic phone on the desk.
"Call the police."
Mercury looked around the room. "Al ain't the only victim."
Ben nodded. "Yeah."
"Get your friend and clear out of here."
"How are you getting home?" Ben asked.
"I'll ride back with the police."
"I've worked with them before, and I and the captain are pretty tight. This is one of those missing person cases. Now get your friend and go."
Ben nodded. He glared at Medusa, grabbed Al McGee, and left. Before Ben left, Mercury observed the way Ben handled his friend carrying him in his arms. Intimate, more than close friends or brotherly love. Al was a father, but a lot of men go both ways. Mercury then understood Ben's rage over his friend's death. Mercury got on the phone, called the police, and gave details about what took place. He hung up and stared at the witch.
"May I ask you a favor?" asked Medusa in a raspy voice.
Mercury shrugged. "Not that you deserve one, but what the hell?"
Medusa pointed to the far corner at two men who like the others were standing on their mantle. Mercury walked over knowing Medusa wasn't going anywhere. Before he got any closer, he saw the resemblance. She and her brother inherited their father's features.
"I want you to burn them," she said.