With his eyes closed, Uno sat behind his large oak desk lost in thoughts older than I could imagine. His thick hands formed a massive pyramid beneath his meaty jowls. Every finger was bejeweled with two rings on them but they weren’t worn for style. Uno never allow himself to indulge in anything as mundane as fashion sense. The rings were a symbol of his power and authority in the Set Amentet. Loosely translated it meant ‘The Mountain of the Underworld’. Why one of the oldest, most secret and powerful organizations in the world wanted to call themselves Set Amentet was beyond me. It didn’t exactly roll off the tongue.
Uno had been chanting in an ancient language before I was even forced into his spacious office. I didn’t have a clue what he was saying, but whatever it was, it certainly couldn’t be good for me. The last time I’d seen him chant was after his crew got their hands on a rival clan leader that tried to muscle his way into Uno’s territory. Big mistake. Uno displayed his skills in taxidermy. Until the end of time the rival clan leader will have glass eyes instead of his real ones. He was being prominently displayed in front of Uno’s house as his garden gnome.
Glancing around, I took the time to see if escape was actually possible. Two big men stood at the door brandishing swords shaped like sickles called Khopesh. Both men were shirtless and had matching tattoos of Egytian hieroglyphs that started at the top of their muscular shoulders and all the way down passed their belly buttons. It could have gone much lower and covered other parts of their anatomy, but I really didn’t want to consider that thought. The one on the right was called, Sigma, the other Hammer. They weren’t bodyguards. Uno didn’t need protection because he was a force by himself. They were assassins. One was formable enough to eliminate a room filled with seasoned killers by himself. To have both assassins together at one place was overkill for any situation.
I didn’t know whether I should be flattered that Uno felt he needed to have both standing guard or terrified to the point of wetting my pants. Going through the door wasn’t an option. Maybe I could take on one, but not all three. I scanned the rest of the office. All the windows had been sealed by bricks and there didn’t seem to be any ventilation shafts leading into the room. I shifted uncomfortably in the large chair. Though it was large enough for two and soft as pillows, at the moment it felt as stiff and confining as an electric chair on execution day.
There was no way out of the room except cleaving through flesh and bone. And even if by some miracle I did survive fighting the most skilled assassins in the world and the one man that could go toe-to-toe with the Hulk, I would still have an army to face on the other side of the door. But on the bright side, at least I wouldn’t have to worry about anymore calls from collection agencies.
Uno stopped his chanting and slowly opened his eyelids. Two points of black inhuman irises stared across the desk and fixed on me. He pulled his hands apart and laid his palms flat on the large oak table. I could have sworn smoke rose from beneath his fingers. It was as if something unnatural touched upon something in the natural world and was being rejected. But it might have been my imagination. Fear does that to the mind sometimes; it makes you see things that are not really there. But, the unmistakable smell of brimstone wafted up my nostrils at almost the same instant.
“Taurus Moon,” Uno said my name with amusement. His lips curled into what he probably considered a smile.
Since both my parents were African-American, weren’t peace loving-drug tripping-sixties flower child’s, and swear I wasn’t adopted, my name tended to have that effect on folks. Being that I wasn’t born in April and to my recollection my family never owned a bull, I never understood their reasoning for giving me such an odd name. They died tragically before I could ask them.
“Uno,” I said with a calm that betrayed the pounding of my heart. My nostrils started to sting from the brimstone. It took all my concentration not to wiggle my nose. “I was a little surprised to get your unexpected invitation to your office.”
“I didn’t have time to ask nice, Moon, and I knew yo’ ass wouldn’t come without help,” he answered.
“Uno, it’s a good thing your people caught me while I was preoccupied or right about now you would be receiving their bodies at your front door.”
I was attacked while I was in the bed of a lady-friend, doing what comes naturally when a man and woman share that close a space. I would have heard his people entering the apartment if my normally keen hearing weren’t being bombarded by her cries of passion. His men literally caught me with my pants down. Still, I put up quite a fight, broke a few of their bones and punched out some teeth before they eventually thought to use my lady-friend as a bargaining chip. I let them inject me with something to save her life. Before I passed out, I told Uno’s men that if they killed my friend out of spite, I swore I would hunt every single person involved and skin them alive. I always keep my promises.
Thankfully Uno lifted his palms up from the desk, ending the offending stench as suddenly as it had begun. He leaned back settling in his thick leather chair. The padding was the color of blood, and the chair’s frame carried a sickening semblance to human bone. Pulled back out of the dim light, the dark spaces where Uno’s inhuman eyes should have been merged in with the shadows disappeared completely.
I was relieved not to see those dark pinpoints staring back. The thudding in my chest actually slowed. If Uno wanted me dead, he would have finished me already. I dared to turn my gaze away from him to look over my shoulder at his two assassins.
Sigma’s long black dreadlocks seemed to move with his eyes like a nest of snakes seeking prey. The man smiled without mirth, inviting me to take a chance and see if I could get past him.
Hammer didn’t appear interested in anyone in the room except himself. He admired his reflection through the shiny silver blade of his Khopesh. Faint light glinted off both the smooth surfaces of his bald head and the sword metal.
“Are they here for me?” I asked.
“Hell nah, man. You’re good Moon, but not thad good,” Uno replied. “Now don’t you worry yo’ ass about why they here.”
I turned my attention back to the large man. “So what is this about?”
Uno bent forward somewhat again revealing those damn black pits he called eyes. “I want ta hire you fo’ yo’ special services.”
“The Set Amentet and I never saw eye-to-eye. Why would they want me working for them?”
“You don’t get it, bruh. This has nothin’ ta do with the clan. This is my personal business. The Set Amentet know nothin’ about this.”
That got my attention. Uno seeking help outside the clan and without their knowledge was punishable by death. Whatever he wanted had to be important—damn important. “Doesn’t change the fact that I don’t like the Set Amentet and anyone involved with the clan. I won’t work for you.”
Lightning fast, Uno jumped out of his chair and stood at his full six-four stature. His knuckles slammed hard on top of the oak desk and actually shattered the wood underneath creating two huge fissures. “I’m not asking you, Moon! Deny me and drown in your own blood!”
All the slang had faded from his verbiage and he spoke with the elegance of an English college professor—an angry, crazed, powerfully built, menacing, giant of a college professor, mind you. He lifted one arm and reached across too fast for me to avoid. He had me by the throat and effortlessly hauled my ass up and into the air. My feet dangled inches from the ground.
I acted instinctively. A retractable blade made of silver flicked out of my sleeve. I jammed it up into the arm that held me suspended and twisted as hard as I could. If it had been the arm of a smaller person, the limb would be lying severed on the floor.
But Uno was unlike any other man. He screamed as his grip involuntarily released me. The second my feet touched earth, I whirled around with my weapon up in a defensive posture and blocked the downward thrust of Sigma’s Khopesh with my own meager blade. Unfortunately, my opponent had all the advantages with his longer, more deadly weapon. He also possessed far greater speed and strength.
The synapses in my brain worked to figure out the best course of action. Then I thought the hell with that, I was most likely going to die anyway. Despite the fact that Sigma stood over me while applying a significant amount of force to push me down to my knees. I risked losing any leverage I had and put all my strength behind a kick, striking his tibia just below the right knee. There was an audible crunch as bone gave way. Sigma crumbled to the floor; he didn’t scream. Had to give him points for that. I expected Hammer to join the attack, but he hadn’t moved from the door, automatically taking on the responsibility of the door’s guardian and assuring I didn’t make it out of the office alive.
From behind me, a great hand gripped the collar of my jacket. Once again my feet left the floor. Uno’s other bloodied hand took hold of my thigh. I was lifted higher into the air and for a brief moment all I saw was the ceiling. Uno jerked me back earthward and on top of his oak desk face down, knocking all the air from my lungs. An explosion of pain erupted inside my head. Red, white and yellow spots danced before my eyes and I almost expected to hear some little boy say, “Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids.”
But the demented voice I eventually heard came from no child. “You fight well, Moon.”
With brute force he spun me over onto my back. The spots faded and were replaced by a grisly nightmare as I stared into the true face of death. Uno’s fangs extended and the black in his irises were no longer small specks. The black encompassed the entire sockets of both his eyes.
I hate vampires.