Crescent City Creeps #18




Everybody Wants a Piece of You

“So you see,” Ehrlich began, “Like Pandora…”
“You want us to help put the lid back on,” Delareux said.
“They’re just as much your problem as they are mine. All they want from me is my business, from you they want your lives. The way I see it, you have way more invested in this than I do.”
Sylvia threw her hands up and vines began wrapping around the zombies, undead werewolves, strangling them. The werewolves shifted back into standard zombies. The vines wrapped around Ehrlich’s limbs and lifted him into the air, stretched into a Saint Andrew’s cross.
“Tell me why I shouldn’t kill you,” she said.
“You tell me, why aren’t you?” Ehrlich spat.
The vines yanked him to all points of the compass and he yelped.
“I had no doubts you could cause me pain, witch, but my life is in no danger with you.”
“If it was you or me…”
“I had no quarrel with you, Winthrop. I only wanted to conduct my business in peace, but you all chose to interfere, which drew the attention of my investors. If we’re looking to place blame, it would seem it lies with you.”
“You don’t seem to have a problem handling the wolves,” Delareux said, examining an erstwhile beast, “And if you noticed our backs were up against the wall when you got here,” Delareux charged toward Ehrlich with a desiccated chicken claw, “Doesn’t much look like you need our help.”
“What is that supposed to do?” Ehrlich asked, twisting his face at the claw.
“It helps me think.”
“I can handle the wolves, I need your assistance with the three Gruppenführer. Walden, Bach, and Sonntag. My investors.”
“Why are they a problem?”
“They are powerful wizards.”
“Why us again?”
“You have experience in these matters and they want you dead.”
“Right.”

Two men, in identical SS uniforms, identical to the one Walden wore, stood in the Ehrlich’s office. One sat before the desk, staring at Walden, who was sat on the other side. He had a long thin face and blue eyes so pale they were white. His light blonde hair looked like it was combed back with a garden trowel and plastered in place. His wide cheekbones tapered to a narrow chin that jutted out well past the tip of his needle pointed nose. The other man stood watching the undead staff working through the glass window that looked out onto the shop floor. Tiny, but heavy black eyes, peeked out of a fat, round head, that appeared to be mounted directly onto his shoulders. Shaggy, black eyebrows cascaded off his protruding brow and obscured his deep-set eyes. A carpet of shaggy black hair curled over his head, like a dark, roiling sea. He snuffled through his rubber ball nose and cleared his throat.
“Your men have been gone awhile, Walden,” he said, “Did they run into trouble? Should I send my group out to rescue them?” he turned to face Walden, his toothy grin pushed his cheeks out making his head seem even bigger.
“Laugh if you like, Bach. They will return victorious,” Walden cracked his knuckles.
The thin man in the chair snickered, “Look, he’s cracking his knuckles. That's what he does when he’s nervous.”
“It is, isn’t it?” Bach roared.
“Sonntag,” Walden said to the thin man, “Are you just going to stare at me all night?”
“Yes,” he replied.
“Why?”
“Because I know it bothers you.”
“How’s Ehrlich’s loyalty?” Bach asked Walden.
“Ehrlich is loyal to money, which I have plenty of,” he replied.
“He’s not out there helping them is he?” Sonntag said, “And that’s why your men haven’t returned?”
“He’s weak. He doesn’t have the spine to cross us.”
“Really?” Sonntag leaned in and pointed at three rune stones laid out on the desk, “These tell a different story.”
“Didn’t they once tell you that Hitler would never become chancellor? Who are we working for now?”
Sonntag leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms, giving Walden a scowl, “Herr Hitler and his precious Reich are mayflies. We are eternal.”
“To the extent that…”
The sound of gunfire was heard coming from the warehouse floor. The slapping sounds of fists hitting dead flesh and bodies thudding to the floor were accompanied by shouting and screaming.
“This better not be who I think it is,” Sonntag said glaring at Walden.
“Impossible…” Walden rose from his seat and looked out the window.
“Who is this now?” Bach asked.
Through the window, they could see mobsters armed with Thompson guns and dressed in fine suits. They were being led toward the office by a rotund man wearing nothing but soiled long johns. Over his, shoulder he carried a stick with a blackjack affixed to the end. He scratched at his greasy, stubbled face like a dog with mange.
Walden, Bach and Sonntag drew their pistols. A cloud of static appeared between them and the door. The cloud resolved into the shape of a tall, lanky man dressed in a white suit.
“Gentlemen,” said Winston Cross, adjusting his glasses, “My employer, Mr. Pulcinella, would like a few words with you.”
Walden, Bach, and Sonntag opened fire on Cross. He flickered as the bullets pierced the office door behind him.
“Eh,” Pulcinella shouted, “Signore. C’mon out. Just a friendly talk, yes?”
Cross tilted his head, “Which one of you fungible Nazi thugs is Gunner Ehrlich?”

***

“Are you going to let me down, witch?” Ehrlich asked.
“No,” Sylvia replied.
“If I don’t arrive at the warehouse in the morning, it will look suspicious. They’ll be on to me.”
“Perfect.”
“Without me, you’re werewolf food.”
“He’s right,” Toli said.
Sylvia sighed and the vines loosened. Ehrlich hit the floor with his face. He hoisted himself up with help of some zombies.
“We’ll continue our quarrel once this is over,” Ehrlich hissed in Sylvia’s face.
“Looking forward to it.”
“I’ll have the Gruppenführer observed. I’ll keep you apprised of their plans. Hopefully, you can keep ahead of them. I pray I don’t regret this.”
“You will.”

***

“None of us are Gunnar Ehrlich, albino defective,” Walden said to Cross.
“Well then, my charming friend, where can I find Gunnar Ehrlich?” Cross asked.
“Call his secretary in the morning and get an appointment like everybody else.”
“No.”
“I will not suffer insolence from a genetic inferior.”
“You can talk to my boss, but he is much less tactful than I.”
“That Italian ape? Is that your boss?”
“Would you like to meet him?” Cross opened the door and swept his open palm through it.
The three sorcerers filed out and stood before Pulcinella. He stared at them with droopy, tired eyes and his jaw hung slack as he bobbed up and down heaving for breath. He was flanked by armed men in suits.
“This disgusting half-wit is your employer?” Sonntag asked.
“It’s a good job, actually,” Cross replied.
“Which one of you krauts is Ehrlich?” Pulcinella waved his stick in small, lazy circles and the blackjack on the end spun like a propeller.
“Does this thing have a name?” Walden said.
“Pulcinella,” Cross said, “He gets cranky if you don’t answer his questions right away.”
“Eh?” Pulcinella leaned in, “Signore?”
Walden strode over to him, “What do you want you italienisch Schwein?”
Pulcinella stuck him on the side of the head. Walden barked and double over. Pulcinella whacked him again on the back. Walden shuffled back and pulled his gun. Another gun fired and a bullet knocked the pistol out of Walden’s hand.
“Like I said,” Cross returned his gun to his jacket lining pocket, “Just a chat.”
“He stuck me twice.”
“He’s just making sure you’re paying attention.”
“Are you Ehrlich?” Pulcinella pointed his stick at Walden.
“I am not.”
“You?” he pointed at Sonntage who shook his head, “You?” he pointed at Bach who did the same, “Well then, where is Ehrlich?”
Sonntag and Bach raised their hands and pulses of energy shot forth and struck the gangsters on either side of Pulcinella, leaving them smoldering on the ground.
“I could have just been a nice chat, but now look,” Cross vanished and reappeared in the rafters. He began firing on the sorcerers, but his bullets were stopped by a dome of energy surrounding them. The other gangster opened fire but to similar effect.
The sorcerers threw more spells at the gangsters and one by one they dropped into piles of cinder. A pulse of energy hit Pulcinella square in the face. He twisted around and rubbed it. He turned back toward them unscathed. He pulled an apple from his pocket and bit into it as he walked toward Walden, twirling his stick. Walden fired more bolts at Pulcinella in rapid succession. Pulcinella was staggered but continued his approach.
“The albino and the pig are under some sort of protection,” Walden shouted, “Retreat for now.”
The sorcerers pointed to each other, making the corners of a triangle. Energy passed between them and a stiff wind rushed up from the floor.
“Tell Ehrlich to stop stealing my employees,” Pulcinella yelled into the wind.
The sorcerers vanished.
“Hmm,” Cross said, “Copycats.”
“Add those three to my shit list, Spettro,” Pulcinella said to Cross.

***

“You three come here and threaten me,” Ehrlich said, ranting, “Threaten to take my business because I’m not running it to your satisfaction, yet I walk in here this morning to find half the night crew slaughtered. What were you doing? You let this happen? Not very good for business. Not at all.”
“Watch it, little man, or I’ll cut your tongue out,” Walden said.
“Were you that ferocious when a pisant gangster shot the place up? What did he want?”
“He wanted to talk to you.”
“Did you tell him where he could find me?”
“No.”
“Did you ask what he wanted?”
“No.”
“Why not?”
“Because I don’t suffer such…”
“Your ego got hurt. In business, we do a thing called negotiation. Perhaps he could have been placated in a mutually beneficial way. Or at least for long enough to finish your project. Now we have two wildcards to worry about. An angry gangster and that rabble of misfits you failed to deal with last night.”
“How do you know about that, worm? Did you maybe have something to do with my men going missing?”
“Guess who hassled me on my way in today?”
“I believe we should all relax,” Sonntag said, “Take a deep breath and plan our next maneuver.”
“That beast shook our magic off like it was a slap on the face,” Bach said.
“Who was this ‘beast’?” Ehrlich asked.
“He calls himself Pulcinella,” Walden replied, “He had an officer. An albino who could teleport.”
“The Ghost,” Ehrlich said, “Winston Cross. His reputation precedes him. I’m not aware of this Pulcinella. If you say he’s a gangster, then he’s probably angry I’m fishing in the same labor pool as he.”
“When I talk about you being sloppy, that’s what I mean.”
“Calculated risks. I haven’t created a single problem that can’t be deferred until after the project is launched. Then you can just let it blow up on whoever’s there for it to blow up on.”
“For your sake,” Walden leaned close, “I hope you’re correct.”
“For your sake as well, no?” Ehrlich said, “Der Führer, would be pretty angry if you failed, I imagine.”
Walden wrapped his hand around Ehrlich’s thick throat, “Don’t think that’s leverage for my life. I’ve existed long before Little Adolf and have seen far worse men than he could ever dream to be. I’ve been worse men. Genghis Khan.”
“Ivan the Terrible,” Bach said,
“Alexander the Great,” Sonntag said.
“And that’s just me,” Walden said.
“And now you’re throwing up your hand and saying hailing another man’s name every time a superior walks by,” Ehrlich smirked.
“Being immortal teaches you patience. The wheel of fortune never stops spinning.”

***

Sylvia and Shelby sat at a table in the solarium, enjoying the warm, honeysuckle scented breeze wafting in through the gaping hole left from where the tower used to be. Rays of sunshine filtered through swaying leaves of the bushes and flowers that grew in the room, bathing them in ever-changing patterns of sunlight. A grey werewolf loped into the solarium carrying two plates. He placed one down in front of Shelby and the other in front of Sylvia. They picked up silverware and began to eat.
“At least they’re useful,” Shelby said through her brisket.
“Good cooks too,” Sylvia said through a mouthful of piping hot mashed potatoes.

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