Disclaimer:I don't own them and I don't make any money off of them.
Warnings: Male/male sex, graphic, language, violence
The run-down apartment buildings and marginal businesses were a hodgepodge of styles from different eras. In their decay, they appeared to slump towards the street full of cars that were bumper to bumper and expelling exhaust in white clouds. The good elements of society rubbed elbows with the worst in a miasma of humanity; shopping, taking their kids to school, going to work, or standing on street corners ready to rob the weak or start a fight. They all parted like the Red Sea to let one man through. They moved away from him as if they were polar opposites repelling each other.
Duo Maxwell strode the pavement with confident steps in time to the hard rock tune blasting through his earbuds. His three feet of honey-colored braid swung behind him like a pendulum, his black long coat swirling along with it in a cold wind. His black sunglasses made him look inscrutable and dangerous. Having lived his young life on the streets as an orphan, he still exuded an aura of street smarts.
Ahead of him, two young men came careening out of the crowd as they did their best to pound each other into oblivion. They were dressed poorly for the weather as if trying to show their machismo. Tattoos covered their bodies in intricate designs, symbols, and inflammatory words. Some were engraved crudely as if done with a sharp instrument during a drunken night of grief or rage. Piercings and holes peppered them in places that were designed to cause conversations about the decline of youth, morality, and common sense.
The crowd wisely gave them space.
Without breaking stride, his mind on nothing in particular and his ‘don’t give a fuck’ a lot stronger than theirs, Duo challenged their claim to a piece of urban territory that had been theirs by right of might. They almost collided with him, but then seemed to veer off at the last possible moment as if repelled by the barrier of Duo’s indifference. They broke off their fight and wore mirror expressions of wariness as he passed between them and continued down the sidewalk. In the next moment, they collided together as they began their fight again, two elemental titans of muscle and negative emotions hell-bent on mutual destruction.
The adrenaline rush caused by Duo’s moment of danger made him tingle
and his heart beat strongly. It was like taking a hit of a drug, a pick me up
to get his day started. The rush let him know he was alive. Sometimes he doubted
it. Being Duo Maxwell, homicide detective and the resident weirdo of the 49th
precinct didn’t make for days filled with sunshine and unicorns after
Light rain began dripping from the sky as if God was personally taking it into his own hands to make everyone’s morning commute a little more miserable. Some people pulled up their hoods. A few better-prepared souls raised and opened umbrellas. Duo had neither and nor did a blind, crippled beggar.
Sitting in his wheelchair by the wall of a boarded-up business, the beggar’s dark sunglasses were looking hard at nothing. His thick, gray brows were drawn down in a frown. His dark skin was wrinkled and leathery. His clothing was made up of thrift store specials. The sign he wore was cardboard. Its message, scrawled in black marker, was either a plea or a condemnation; Need help. It was placed in front of a plastic cup. It was the generic cup that came from a gas station drink fountain that gave reduced refills if you returned with the cup. Raindrops covered the old man like diamonds.
Duo didn’t care about the beggar. He was more interested in a paper machine.
They were becoming rare. He despised online news, liking it on paper so he could
turn, fold it, and tear out bits he liked. His morning wasn’t complete
without a stop to get his paper. Only this time, his pockets were devoid of
change. His coins were back at his apartment by the front door, in a little
blue plastic dish, on a badly painted red table.
Duo searched every pocket again, wondering how he had forgotten such an important part of his routine. His pockets were deep and repositories for every kind of object, some needed and others not. The change was not among them.
From the perspective of a citizen on the street, his next move probably looked heartless in the extreme. It begged intervention from some passing hero of justice. No hero appeared as Duo turned and strode over to the panhandler and began searching in his cup for coins.
The beggar made his outrage clear and he was loud enough to be heard over Duo’s music. “Hey! What are you doing? You’re stealing from the blind, you fucker!” He jerked the cup away from Duo, but not quickly enough. Duo had taken enough money for his newspaper.
Ignoring the beggar’s curses, Duo returned to the paper machine. Putting in the coins, the machine made satisfying clinks. Opening the rusty door of the machine, he retrieved his paper and tucked it under his arm.
The beggar was furious now. He began to rise from his chair, but then restrained himself and settled into his seat again. His quick, covert glances at the crowd revealed his intent to defraud the public. After repositioning his cup and his sign, he glared at Duo and spat on the sidewalk. His spit mixed with the rain as Duo strode away uncaring. A veteran of begging himself, Duo had easily seen through the beggar’s scam.
Only a few feet down the sidewalk, Duo felt a sudden, hard grip on his arm. He yanked his earbuds out with one hand and raised the other to grip the ragged coat of the man who had grabbed him. Duo was ready for a fight, ready to defend himself against a thief. Instead, he was confronted by another homeless man. Duo relaxed his defensive stance and released the man’s coat, grimacing in disgust at the filth on it.
“I’m not a faker like him. I’m the real thing, Buddy,” the man whined. “Maybe you don’t have change, but I could use a dollar or two for a cup of coffee.”
He was standing in a dark alley. Like the beggar in the wheelchair, he too
was dressed in thrift store couture, but he was authentic. He smelled like piss
and months of missed baths.
Duo leveled his sunglasses at the man, trying to be intimidating. He hated being touched.
The homeless man let go of Duo’s arm nervously. He patted the material of Duo’s coat as if to say, there, I didn’t hurt it before he stepped back. He was a lone, frightened figure waiting for charity or bodily harm. The rain slowly dripped from the sky, tiny drops dotting him and the refuse just visible in the shadows. There were a few, large cardboard boxes that had been flattened and leaned against a wall; a makeshift shelter that was slowly soaking up the wet. There was a stench coming from the ally; the reek of rot and death. It wasn’t human death, though. Being a homicide detective, Duo was well acquainted with that smell.
Duo rubbed his nose in disgust as he pulled out his wallet.
The homeless man’s attitude changed from fearful to hopeful. He was rubbing his cold hands together, watching Duo go through his wallet with avid interest.
“Yeah, you smell it? Terrible isn’t it? It’s not me, I swear.” The homeless man chuckled. “Some guy dumped trash down there a week ago and the smell’s getting bad enough for me to move.” He looked worried suddenly. “It’s a good spot, though. People don’t bother me here.”
Duo pulled a small white card from his wallet, gave it a flourish to get the homeless man’s attention, and then handed it to him. It was the address of a recovery center, food bank, shelter, and a psychologist that worked with the homeless.
The homeless man took the card with a bewildered expression. As he touched the card something slid out of the shadows behind him. As quick as a pouncing leopard it rushed forward to stand at the beggar’s back, towering menacingly over him. Duo’s grip on the card unintentionally tightened and he played a strange tug-of-war with the homeless man before he came back to himself and released it. Duo stepped back warily.
The creature met all the requirements of a demon from hell, except existing when it should have been a myth dreamed up to scare parishioners into attending church. Tall and naked, its skin was the color of hellfire. Its bulging eyes stared down intently at the homeless man and its sharp claws opened and closed reflexively. Two small horns on its head completed its appearance and looked as if they had been borrowed from a goat. It was emaciated, as if there were a shortage of people willing to sell their black souls for him to eat.
Duo felt deeply disturbed, especially when the demon barred its sharp teeth and its drool dripped onto the homeless man’s head along with the rain. Its drool seemed heavier, though, and it made definite plopping noises. There was also a smell that was stronger than the stink of the homeless man and the garbage behind him. It wasn’t a fire and brimstone smell. It was more like stinking dead dog, a rat infestation, and rotten fish all rolled into one. The creature wasn’t casting a shadow, even though the homeless man was, and it flickered like a strobe light, in and out of existence, as if it was having trouble staying outside of a nightmare.
Duo frowned sharply, ducked his head, and looked away. The normalcy of the street traffic and the pedestrians passing by was unnerving him. He put his earbuds back in. The music started, the loud, heavy beat as numbing as a shot of whiskey. Without looking at the homeless man, Duo continued his commute to work.
Duo heard the homeless man scream, “Fuck You!” even over the music.
Duo’s sudden step to the left into a world where demons draw fetid breath and menace homeless people was not an unusual occurrence for him. His psychologist told him it was a manifestation of a childhood trauma he was trying hard not to remember. Since the childhood he did remember was terrible enough, he didn’t want to delve into blocked memories that might prove worse. Despite the visions, he managed to hold down a job and make the rent on a small apartment, but it hadn’t been easy. If he didn’t solve most of his caseload, he was sure his superiors would have been less likely to put up with his unorthodox behavior and his bad habits. He couldn’t see gruesome, demonic, supernatural entities without reaching for the bottle once in a while.
The visions seemed to manifest when Duo’s brain was working through a case or a rough patch in his life. His brain went ‘click’ and he was suddenly handed all the answers from somewhere deep inside his psyche via a supernatural vision. Those answers weren’t always plain. Sometimes, they were as cryptic as a riddle from a Tibetan Bodhisattva. In the visions, the creatures called him Shinigami, as if he were one of them. Duo’s psychologist thought that meant that Duo yearned for fame or at least approval from the only father figure in his life, the Chief of police. Duo thought his analysis was bullshit and hadn’t minded telling him so. Visions and drinking too much aside, Duo’s blunt nature was just as much an impediment to his rising in the ranks. If it wasn’t for said father figure, he doubted he would still have a job. Chief Zechs Marquise often rued the day he had promised a dying priest to take care of Duo. Guilt only went so far, though, and Duo knew the day would come when even that wouldn’t be enough to help him keep his job.
Duo turned up his collar against the cold and took the icy steps up to a place that was more a home than his tiny, rundown apartment, the 49th precinct.