Monday, January 07, 2008

Tales Of The Stranger: Episode 10, Part 3

Well, here it finally is. (What am I, Frank Miller writing ASBAR?). The third closing chapter (although there's an epilogue coming) in the 10th Stranger story. A long one two - something like 3700 plus word count. Anyway, not that anyone cares 8 months after the last story, but here it is. Actually had it written in September, but something was nagging me that it wasn't quite right. Finally came to me at work one night, so I Think I got it. Enjoy if you can. Comments of any kind welcome, good bad or ugly.

Flood by Eaglewing

The ragamuffin gunner is returnin' home like a hungry runaway
He walks through town all alone…
And everybody's wrecked on Main Street from drinking unholy blood
Sticker smiles sweet as gunner breathes deep, his ankles caked in mud
And I said "Hey, gunner man, that's quicksand, that's quicksand that ain't mud
Have you thrown your senses to the war or did you lose them in the flood?"

The night was dark and the air was still. It was as if the very universe itself was holding its breath against the inevitable outcome of two sides clashing for a hopeless cause.

One side, the Two-Two’s, were holed up in their headquarters – a rundown crack house on a forgotten street. Only one streetlight was still working in that area, and it wasn’t enough to make a difference. Crewmembers came to the building in the darkness, smoking cigarettes and flashing the gang signs and colors. There was going to be a war tonight, and the soldiers were getting ready.

In the mix of psyched up gang bangers, was one worried soul by the name of Tiny. He kept looking around for Bobby, who should have been there by now. It was soon going to be time to go, and Bobby had told him to wait. Tiny wasn’t sure if Bobby would even show; he had been hesitant about the whole deal. And Tiny knew Jamie didn’t approve at all, and would try to talk Bobby out of it. Tiny silently cursed to himself, women. They just didn’t understand the meaning of brotherhood. And Bobby had been changing since Jamie had come along. Tiny didn’t like it either. He figured she was getting her hooks into his boy and would be trying her best to get Bobby to take her out of there to a better place. But to Tiny, there was no better place. What was out there, the possibilities and lies were all talk anyway, but this was home and it was what he knew. They needed to protect their own turf, and he’d do it even if she took away his best friend.

Still, he could really use Bobby tonight. Tiny knew he wasn’t the smartest, but he was tough. Bobby was smart though, he always had a plan. They watched each others backs always, and he never needed his back watched more than tonight. Come on, Bobby, don’t let me down. Not tonight.


Bobby tried to put Jamie out of his mind as he raced for the crack house headquarters. It was nigh impossible to do however. She was right, and he knew it. It was a useless fight, and probably a suicide run to go back up Tiny. But to Bobby, loyalty was loyalty, and it had been earned, and needed to be respected. He had to at least try to get Tiny out of there before all hell broke loose. This was one fight they didn’t need to be in. He could convince Tiny of it, he knew. Tiny would listen to him, but he had to get there in time, and time was running out way too fast. Thanks to a dream coming true in Jamie’s arms, he was running late. But if he could get there, get Tiny out, go back and get Jamie, he might be able to pull it off and get them all out in one piece.

He just needed a little more time.


“Time’s up! Let’s go teach those damn GD’s a lesson!”

A chorus of cheers and yells went up to the gang leaders words. Tiny yelled out too. So much for Bobby. He’d made his choice, and it wasn’t with Tiny, so he’d do this without his one true friend. He couldn’t believe Bobby had chosen a girl over their years of friendship. The hell with you Bobby. I hope you’re happy with her.

He grabbed his guns, yelled out with his gang brothers, and got lost in the crowd. Following their leader’s instructions, the heavily armed group of young street soldiers stampeded out into the night, bound for destruction. They headed as one up the road till the leader came to an abrupt stop. He saw something ahead in the middle of the dark road, blended in with the shadows.

It was a lone man, tall, dressed in black, cowboy hat low. It was such a disconcerting and unusual site for those parts that the whole pack stopped up cold, taken off guard.

“Who are you?” yelled out the leader.

A gravelly voice of hardened steel responded from the shadows. “I’m looking for Tiny. Got a message. Where is he?”

“Right here, man.” Tiny stepped forward, always confident, but this certainly was unusual.

The Stranger spoke again. “Walk away. This ain’t worth dying for. Hell and then some is coming down tonight, and you’re in the wrong fight.”

“Says who?” yelled Tiny, cutting off the Stranger.

“Common sense. You’ve got real friends, Bobby and Jamie, and they could use you watching out for them for a change. Especially tonight. This is a war for drugs and money and turf that in the end will just belong to somebody else. Make a choice, fight for your life, your friend’s life and get away from this.” The Stranger’s voice rose as he finished, “Use your head. It’ll be death tonight, and you don’t need to. Don’t follow bad leaders. Walk away from this, on your own, and walk like a MAN.”

At that, guns were raised before Tiny could respond, and the leader shouted out, “Oh you are dead sucker! Don’t be dissin’ the Two-Two’s! Just who the hell are you to be talkin’ smack like that to us?!”

The Stranger never flinched. “Nobody. But you go off tonight,” he paused, and then calmly pointed up into the pitch black sky. “And you’ll wind up dying for that.”

They looked up on reflex, but didn’t see anything. “Nothing! It ain’t nothing!” yelled the leader, looking back to the Stranger, gun high but seeing empty space.

The Stranger was gone.


Bobby saw the crackhouse up ahead. Running up, he cursed out loud. No! It was dark, they were gone, and he was too late. They were already heading for the line. The war was on, and Tiny was in the middle of it. Why didn’t you wait, Tiny? Why didn’t you wait for me? Bobby turned, and started running full out in the direction of the GD’s turf. He had to try to catch Tiny before it was too late. He’d need Bobby at his back on this one, or death would truly be knocking on his door. Maybe for both of them. At the thought, Bobby willed himself to move faster.

No way, Tiny, no way. I’ve always had your back.


Neglected buildings lined the street that led to the line of the turf war. It made a perfect spot for an ambush, and the GD’s knew it and were ready. They knew the Two-Two’s would come up this road to get to the park where they thought they’d throw down with their adversaries, but there was going to be a surprise before that. With a grim stare, the Stranger surveyed the scene from his rooftop location. He had taken some guns and ammo and car keys off a couple gang bangers that hadn't been bright enough to close the back door on their little ambush. Now he waited. Watched. There was going to be a blood bath tonight, and he had made up his mind that he wouldn't try to stop it. Not that he could stop a war by himself even if he wanted to. Memories of Sonny were whispering other thoughts on the subject to him though; but either way he had warned those he could, and it was their choice now. Each side knew death was making an appearance this fateful night, so if they wanted to roll the dice on that score, it was their right.

He still didn't like it though. He wasn't even entirely sure why he was still around, but he was in this far, may as well see it out. He could only hope that no innocents got hurt in the crossfire. And he could only hope Jamie had been successful in keeping Bobby out of it. And he could only hope Bobby had listened, and maybe even Tiny too.

He shook his head. It wasn't looking too hopeful.

So he waited.

And watched.


I wonder what he was thinking when he hit that storm
Or was he just lost in the flood?

The Two’s-Two’s ran up the street ready for war, but it came a little early. Shots rang out, bodies fell, and screams and yells went up. It dawned on them very quickly they had been ambushed, and they scattered to alleys, behind cars, and mailboxes, firing blinding in all directions. They went for anything that could be used for cover as they shot back and filled the night with the bloody sounds of war.

Tiny rolled over the trunk of a rusted out Pontiac and hit the ground behind it as bullets tore through the metal around him. Fear and adrenaline took over regular thought and he raised his guns over the vehicle and fired blindly at the direction the shots had come from. Then more bullets tore into the roof of the car and he realized they had gunners up above yet too.

But dodging bullets can give a certain clarity, and it came to Tiny as he hugged the ground and the bigger realization hit him. He was going to die tonight. And Bobby and Jamie and the cowboy Stranger had been right – it was going to be for nothing. Their turf wasn’t going to be protected anyway. They’d all be dead, and nothing would have changed.

But Tiny wasn’t the type to go down without a fight. He reloaded his guns as bullets rained down around him. He might die tonight, but he’d go out in style. As he tried to psych himself up for a suicide run, he thanked whatever God was watching this mess that Bobby had had the good sense to stay out of it. The hell with me. Good luck buddy, make her happy.

And now the whiz-bang gang from uptown, they're shootin' up the street
And that cat from the Bronx starts lettin' loose
but he gets blown right off his feet


From above, the Stranger saw Tiny’s predicament. From a third story window across the street, GD gang members had positioned themselves for an even better advantage. On a rooftop higher up, the Stranger took careful aim, emptied a clip and evened the odds for those below. He had told himself he wasn’t going to get involved. It wasn’t his fight, and he’d be facing an army on both sides in an effort to save one. Well, bad for them. Fair is fair after all. He checked his guns, and headed for the fire escape trying to ignore the sheer insanity of what he was about to do. And just like old times, somewhere in the back of his mind he could see Sonny smiling that crazy grin.


Tiny took a couple deep breaths, steeling himself for what he had to do. He just needed to wait till they reloaded. Then from out of a dark side alley a familiar face came into view, firing a shotgun into the night air laying down a field of cover as he headed for Tiny. It was Bobby after all, yelling “Get down! Get down!”

Bobby slid down behind the bullet ridden Pontiac beside Tiny, gasping for air and pouring sweat. “I told you to wait, damnit!” he yelled at Tiny.

Tiny just grinned. “I knew you’d have my back man, I knew it!”

“Forget that, we have to get out of here. The hell with the turf war, this is suicide!”

“I know,” responded Tiny. “I finally get that. Man, you should’a listened to Jamie and stayed away from me. From this. We ain’t likely to make it.”

“Oh yes we will,” muttered Bobby, surveying the surroundings. “We’ll take turns covering each other, make our way to that garbage bin over there, then fight our way out down that side alley behind it. Got it?”

Tiny nodded. A quick look around revealed no one was very organized any more, with bullets flying everywhere and bodies strewn across the ground. In spite of himself, he was glad Bobby had shown up – maybe they’d make it out after all.

“You go first,” yelled Bobby, “then you cover me. Ready? Go! Go! Go!”

Bobby came over the top of the car, firing the shotgun as fast as he could to blow holes in turf and flesh. Tiny was up and running for the garbage bin before he had time to think. Bullets hit the pavement around him as he dove behind it, catching his breath. Then he pulled out his own guns and came up firing, yelling at Bobby to move.

Bobby dropped the now spent shotgun and pulled his handguns, making a run for the bin. Then he stopped cold, his heart dropping to his feet as he heard his name called and witnessed his worst fear.


He had no clue what she was doing there, but there she was hugging the side of a building, calling his name and looking around frantically. Everything seemed to slow down as they both saw each other at the same time.



Their eyes locked and Bobby’s mind went blank. The man with the plan suddenly didn’t know what to do. His oldest friend was to his left, and his one true love was to his right. And he froze in the middle, stunned, completely unsure of himself for the very first and possibly worst time. He was too far away to save either one, and he was sure to die where he stood. Looking at Jamie, he realized he had failed them all. He was out of time.

Tiny saw it all happen. Saw Jamie, saw the GD gunner’s coming up into view and Bobby in no man’s land. It had all just gone horribly, horribly wrong, but Tiny didn’t hesitate despite knowing in his gut the cost he was about to pay. Pulling the trigger on his guns as fast he could he yelled at Bobby and dove from behind his cover to tackle his best friend as bullets ripped through the air around them. They rolled behind another car as Bobby yelled out Jamie’s name and reached an outstretched hand in her direction, willing the distance to close in vain.

Jamie screamed as bullets tore into the building close to her, blinding her with cement dust, before a dark apparition knocked her to the ground as more bullets strafed the spot she had just been. She buried her face into her arm in the dirt as the weight on top of her whispered, “Stay down now, you’ll be ok. So will he.” Then it was gone.

Looking back at Jamie on the ground, the Stranger saw someone else. The face that haunted his every moment, and then the sight of Sonny walking out of that cemetery and the reasons for it all came roaring back. And now yet another innocent almost gunned down, another almost lost to a useless fight. The Stranger had had enough. He wasn’t planning on getting involved, but involved he would be. Picking up automatic weapons from fallen gang soldiers, he armed himself and came out firing in a suicidal wave of rage and bullets. If they wanted a war, he’d show them one as he opened fire at both sides. They were used to fighting scared gang bangers and doped up runners and gunners, not an experienced battle hand. Blood spray and screams hit the air as his unerring aim blew holes in anything that moved. Casings flew to the side as he spent round after round to pay down on a costly lesson that had to be taught, driving the point home just how stupid this war was and that there wouldn’t ever be any winners. Just those who managed to live, and way too many that died. He marched forward, clearing the street even as some returned fire. He ignored the pain as something hit his leg, then his arm. He didn’t stop, instead reloading and firing at will. His thoughts were elsewhere – for Jamie, for Bobby, for Tiny, for Sonny, for her, and all those innocents that fell before their time. For those that couldn’t, he would stand here now and let the bullets and gunpowder and smell of cordite in the air speak for them.

And if he didn’t know better, he could have sworn Sonny was right there beside him, making it right.

As the recoil finally stopped and the bolt slid on an empty chamber, he lowered the gun and surveyed the scene. Some were dead, some were bleeding, some were running, but all were hurt. Another minute passed before his shell shocked, ringing ears were able to filter in the sounds of police sirens in the distance. Viewing the carnage, those still standing, or hiding, broke off running into the early morning grayness at the sound. Big Mike had done what he could after all, and the remaining will to fight vanished from both sides. With nothing left to aim at, the Stranger finally let the automatic fall to the ground and assessed the situation. Taking a deep breath to slow his heart rate, he looked at the flood of blood and human wreckage lying wasted around him. He may not have started the flood, but he had blown open the dam. Glancing back to some survivors behind him, he didn't regret it, but he took no pride in it either. There had to have been a better way. Maybe a better man would have found it, and he felt as something less for not doing so. But as usual, he didn't have the time for better, only survival, and it always seemed to come to him to make the hard decisions. Maybe someday he'd make the right one. Grimacing, he registered that he was hurt, cops would be all over the area too soon and it was time to go. But not before he finished one thing.

He went back and found Bobby and Jamie kneeling down beside Tiny. Blood was on their hands and on the ground as they tried to stop the bleeding from the bullet wounds he had taken when saving Bobby. It was an effort in vain.

“I’m sorry, Tiny,” Bobby whispered. “You saved my life, man. Hang on now, we’ll get you help.”

“Nah, I’m not hanging around. ‘Sides, time I had your back for a change.” Tiny coughed up blood as the breath flowed slowly out of him.

“No!” cried Jamie. “Don’t quit, Tiny! This is all my fault. If I hadn’t been here…” She looked at Bobby quickly, “But I had to…”

“Nah, girl, t’ain’t your fault. You couldn’t stay away any more than I could. You was here for him, he was here for me. My fault, really.” Tiny coughed some more before focusing in on something. “You know I never wanted to leave here, and I ain’t. But you two, get outta here. Something else out there, I think.” His eyes drooped as the last bit of life left. He smiled, “I see it now…”

“No way, man, no way. Don’t do this!” Bobby was stunned as he watched his old friend leave the mortal world. Then he suddenly became aware of another presence and looked up to see the Stranger.

“Who are you?!” Bobby exclaimed. “Can you help him?”

“No.” replied the Stranger, quickly eyeing the grievous wounds of the now lifeless Tiny. “But you two gotta move right away. I’m sorry about your friend, but there’s nothing you can do for him now. He made the right choice in the end, so honor him by doing what he asked. Get out of here. But you have to go now.”

Bobby stood, pulling Jamie up as well, keeping her close. “How are we supposed to do that? And I can’t just leave my friend on the street!”

“Yes you can. You can leave him, you can leave it all. Find something better, just the two of you.” He handed Bobby some car keys as he spoke. “There’s an old Mustang down that alley. I’m betting it runs and will get you far enough. I know you want to stay out of loyalty to your friend, but he died to give you this chance, so be loyal and take it. Don’t let him down now.”

Bobby looked down at his friend, then met Jamie’s eyes for a long moment. One was his past; one was his future. Jamie answered the question in his eyes with a nod, and he looked back at the Stranger.

“Thanks.” The Stranger just nodded, then headed off on his own.

Bobby knelt down by Tiny one last time. With his hand, he closed his friend’s eyes, then whispered, “Rest easy now, and thanks, old friend. I won’t forget what you gave us and what you did. What a man can do.” Then he stood, looking at Jamie. “You with me?”

With fire in her eyes, she reached up to pull his face close. “Always. Beyond the end of time.”

With a quick kiss, Bobby grabbed Jamie’s hand and headed for the car. It was time to leave for good. The Mustang roared out of the alley with seconds to spare before the police surrounded the area.

The Stranger lurked in the shadows to make sure they made it, then lifted some first aid supplies from an unguarded ambulance before he slipped away. As he put some space on the scene, he looked back at the result of one bad night. It hadn't gone ideal. He'd managed to get two out, and two out of three ain't bad. It was just a shame, a sad reality, that as another morning came and the sunrise hit the blood stained streets, too many had simply been lost in the flood. The blood ran deep, but there was always more where that came from. He just hoped the two that had made it out of the storm would find some dry land to harbor in.

From a distance, the Stranger watched the yellow police tape go up around the killing ground. Some bodies were being patched up and taken to the hospital. Most others were simply covered where they lay. The cleanup had begun. The blood on the streets would be washed away, but nothing had been gained there that night by the loss of it.

Except for two. Sonny would have been happy to see them get out, to beat the odds. Thinking of his old friend, the Stranger looked at the horizon where the car had disappeared and almost smiled.

Then he simply turned and walked away.

The End.

And somebody said "Hey man did you see that? His body hit the street with such a beautiful thud"
I wonder what the dude was sayin' or was he just lost in the flood?
Hey man, did you see that, those poor cats are sure messed up
I wonder what they were gettin' into, or were they just lost in the flood?

Lyrics from the song:
"Lost In The Flood", written by Bruce Springsteen
Album: Live In New York City

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