But nobody argues with a half-orc to his face, if you know what I mean.

My motorcycle hung, thirty feet up the side of a brick wall, suspended only by luck and willpower – which is about how I managed to hold onto the katana, too.

Motorcycles are different from cars. Cars, by their nature, want to stay upright. If you leave a car alone, it'll stay upright. If a sudden gust of wind hits it, it'll stay up. If you lose your balance while driving, it won't fall. If you hit a slick spot in the road, you might lose control – but the car won't topple over. A car has four wheels under it – four fat, wonderful, stabilizing, traction grabbing wheels. Cars are nice that way.

A motorcycle, by its nature, wants to fall. They say their are two kinds of motorcyclists – those who have lain down their bikes and those who will lay down their bike. Motorcycles throw away two of those wheels under the theory that stability is optional. They're held upright by a freakish combination of gyroscopic physics and balance. The former only works if you're going fast. The latter depends entirely on the rider. And all of it can fall apart in a heartbeat if you hit a slick spot, a sudden gust of wind, or a redhead that makes you do a double take.

Let me tell you, a motorcycle suspended three stories off the ground wants to fall in the worst kind of way.

But maybe I should back up a bit, because you're probably wondering how I got up there. And if you know me a little bit, you're probably also wondering what damn fool idea got me on one of those two wheeled monstrosities in the first place. To be honest, I'm still not sure why I did it. But I can at least tell you how it happened.

I was doing paperwork at the office – ok, fine, I was napping! - when she walked in the door. I hadn't seen her in years. At first, my line of work was what excited her. Later she decided it was too dangerous, and left for a saner life. That happens to me a lot. Usually I don't pay much mind and I just move on to the next one. This one, though.. it kind of hurt.

What? Oh, what kind of work is it? Michael Jones, P.I. That's what it says on the door, anyway. Only she already knew that that weren't my real name, and neither was it John Smith, Jim Adams, Sam Johnson or Andy Williams – despite me having a stack of business cards in each name.

You might think I was happy to see her come back, but I knew right away she wasn't back for that. She was there on business – because she also knew that I wasn't quite a regular PI. We don't do divorces or custody battles. And when we handle missing persons or harassment... well, let's just say we do it with a touch of flair.

We? Oh yeah, that's my team. It's dangerous to go alone. Take friends with you. Well, not friends, really. More like allies. OK, maybe mercenaries. The day my checks don't clear is the day they stab me in the back. Or more likely the front, and more likely a flamethrower or a grenade. These guys like to make statements. But who am I to judge? It's not like I ain't never done anything shady myself.

The job? Of course we took the job, even though she couldn't pay a dime. My boys don't know that I'm paying their checks out of my own pocket this time around, but it's not like I was ever gonna not do it. Not this job.

More...

Tully found the right place for us. I'm not sure how, exactly. I'm never sure with him. I used to joke that it was some kind of dark magic, but then both him and Skyler would always get upset with me. Tully swears up and down that it's legit, and Skyler insists that the dark magic is his expertise and the rest of us should stay out of it. I never fought him on that one. Better his soul at risk than mine!

Anyway, Tully can talk his way into and out of damn near anything, so we kept the plan simple. We just walked right up and rang the front doorbell.  Yup, we found the biggest, baddest, most notorious mobster in Seattle and decided to break into his fortress by walking right up to his front door.

OK, so the plan wasn't quite that simple. We're not idiots... er, total idiots. Harv and his robot drones took up a watch position on the rooftop across the street, and he jacked in to the net. Well, he was kind of always jacked in, so he didn't really do anything special for that. But he did that crazy hacker magic he does and cracked through to Bernadino Palmeri's security system like it was nothing. Shut the whole thing down, boom, like that.

And Skyler did his magic thing. My own mother wouldn't have recognized me through the glamour he put on us. Made me look like an ugly son-of-a-gun, though, so I had to hit him once for that. Damn near broke the gangly mage, too – kid needs to put some meat on his bones. But seriously, he didn't have to make me so pox-ridden ugly.

And Cal took up the watch position. Which is where we screwed up. We never, ever should've put Cal in any kind of job that requires rubbing his last two brain cells together. I know what you're thinking, because we thought it too. “How hard could the lookout job be?” Evidently with Cal, if it don't involve hitting something, it's pretty hard. But he was knew to the team at the time and we didn't rightly know that. Like most everything else, we learned it the hard way.

So there we were, talking with the butler at the door. And everything was going real smooth and easy. They bought his story about us being made men in desperate need of a place to lay low, and were about to let us in. That story wasn't going to stand up when they checked it out, but it didn't need to – it just needed to get us inside. Like I said, Tully can talk his way into anything.

Then Cal got all brilliant on us. The guards walked by. Cal was supposed to just let us know. He was supposed to just click his radio a few times – da da duh da DA! You know, “shave and a haircut.” Real simple. Only frankly, we'd already figured out he had trouble with that and we'd just told him to click it a few times. We'd all get it. Maybe that should've been our first clue.

He swears now that the radio just didn't work. Harv thinks he smashed it in his big fat hands. OK, we all pretty much think that. But nobody argues with a half-orc to his face, if you know what I mean. Not unless you're heavily armed and armored. Evidently that radio didn't get the memo, and it pissed him off royally, and it paid the price.

So when those guards came around the corner, Cal didn't have a radio. So instead of keying out a warning to us, he shouted it out to us. Across half a city block. Did I mention how far his half-orc voice can carry? Um, it's a long way. A long way.

It took the guards a moment to recover from being stunned by his voice. But the butler was way over by us, and he was a little quicker on the uptake. He slammed the door right in Tully's face. OK, I admit it. I laughed, right there on the battlefield. That doesn't happen much to our smooth talker, and it was pretty freaking... I guess you had to be there.

But that butler must've set off an alarm, or maybe the guards did. Doesn't really matter. We were royally poked then and we knew it. So we put Plan B into action, only we didn't exactly have a Plan B, so we went right into Plan C which can be neatly summarized as “make shit up as you go.”

Thankfully, we're actually kind of good at that. On the other hand, that's when all of Palmeri's goons showed up. I didn't realize that the Italian Mafia in Seattle had become a biker gang. Or maybe they hadn't – those guys didn't really look Italian. Maybe Palmeri just paid them with those sweet Ducatis they rode in on. Even I know those things ain't cheap, and I hate everything about motorcycles. Right then I most especially hated their riders.

Cal ain't known for subtlety. So when the guards regained their senses and he found himself in a staring contest with them, he ended it about the way you'd expect of a half-orc: with his fist. More like his whole arm, and right through their skulls. It was about as ugly as that sounds.

The Ducati gang didn't take kindly to that. They started drawing all kinds of weapons – pistols, mostly, but there were a couple of shotguns, some sticks, pipes, and a few crowbars. One guy even had a katana. I guess he'd watched too many samurai flicks or something, or maybe he thought he was a ninja. Whatever, I shot him first.

What? Of course I shot first! Do I look like an idiot? Or worse, dead? There were thirteen of them, man – if we hadn't shot first I wouldn't be here to tell you this story. Besides, when Cal lost it we knew things were going to go down. There weren't no point in playing 'civilized' anymore. Even Tully wasn't gonna talk himself out of that.

What about Tully? Oh, he turned on that portable energy shield he carries with him everywhere and hunkered down. The house had gone into total lockdown, so he went looking for a hidden spare key or a secret way in or something. Of course we still had to get inside, don't look at me like that. I told you, this job was important. And yes, you'd be surprised how many crime lords hide a key under the doormat. This one time... well, that's a story for another day.

Where was I?

Harv sent those flying robot drones in, a good sized swarm of 'em. Maybe a dozen or so. It gave us a lot of cover, which we badly needed. Bullets were flying everywhere. I'm still not sure how I didn't get shot, but then I've always been lucky.

So now the bikers had to worry about their six, too. And Cal, God bless him, joined the real fray, too. He'd run the entire half block in about the amount of time it takes me to tell you that he ran a half block. That son of a motherless goat is fast. You wouldn't believe it of a man... er, orc... his size. Hell, I saw it and I'm still not sure I believe it.

Slowing down? He's not so good at that. But when he collided with that red sport bike I'm pretty sure it hurt the bike worse than him, and that slowed him down real good. And it left him right where he wanted to be, smack dab in the middle of the melee. Took one of the shotguns out of the fight, too, so there was that.

Skyler got his hippie ass into the fight, too. I'm not ashamed to admit that it always frightens me a little when he really lets loose with that black magic of his. He had fireballs raining down from the sky, and some tentacled... thing came up out of the manhole. I had to turn away. Just looking at that thing gave me the willies.

That turned out to be a good thing, though. If I hadn't turned right then I wouldn't have seen the crowbar coming at my face. And it wasn't just the force of an arm behind it. The biker had blipped the throttle of that Ducati. If I hadn't ducked it would've plum taken my face straight off. But I did duck, and I hit him right in the gut with a solid right cross as he rolled by. Knocked him right off the bike, and knocked his helmet clean off his head, too. Stupid kid had forgotten to strap it down.

Stupid kid was right. He couldn't have been any more than seventeen. My guys say I'm going soft, but I really didn't want to kill him. I settled for planting nine millimeters of lead in his left knee. I hear it's excruciating, and his screams certainly backed that up. But he lived. I sent him a card in the hospital, encouraged him to find a new line of work.

Oh, right – the mission. Sorry, had an ADD moment there.

That was three down pretty fast. That was a big improvement. But they still had us ten to five, which I figured to be roughly even odds. What? No, that's not arrogance. They were punk kids, and we're... well, we kind of know what we're about, even if we are a bit rough around the edges.

They weren't totally stupid, though. One of the brighter ones managed to talk his friend into helping him get the attention of the drones. The talk went something like, “follow me or I'll shoot you in the face.” Very convincing – I think that kid's got potential, if he ever wakes up from the coma. Anyway, the pair of them managed to get the drones peeled off while Harv was focused on getting the house out of lockdown mode. That guy's awesome at what he does, but even he can only split his attention so many ways. He put the drones on autopilot and, well, they're just not as quick on the uptake as he is.

So we were down two more bikers, but I figured that was only temporary. And we'd also lost our great distraction in the enemy's rear, so that was no good. I figured we needed to do something fast to stay on top of things, so I raised my gun again to shoot the nearest biker in the back. That's when his head exploded all over me. I mean, it was disgusting. Brains and skull and bits everywhere.

“SKYLER!” I yelled it loud. I mean, way past my normal battlefield voice, and that's pretty loud. Sometimes that bloody mage pisses me off so much that I forget to be afraid of his black magic. This was definitely one of those times. “That one was mine, you damn dirty hippie!”

“Sorry boss!” the answer came back sheepishly. Sometimes I think he's as scared of me as I am of him. Maybe he should be. One of us is right to be so scared, I just never can quite tell which.

I used my sleeve to wipe the juiced up biker off of my face and turned to get back into the fray. I wasn't fast enough on the dodge, though. One of the bikers brought his stick down right on my gun arm. I was lucky he didn't break it, but there was going to be a solid bruise there for a week or two. And, of course, I dropped the gun like a damned fool.

That kind of pissed me off, so on his next pass I took the damned thing away from him. I just stepped inside the reach of the stick, grabbed his arm in a wristlock and twisted. Twenty miles per hour isn't all that fast on the freeway. When you're falling off of a moving motorcycle onto asphalt, it may as well be warp speed. His helmet crunched as he hit the road, and I made sure to follow it up with a few well placed kicks to the... well, he wouldn't be getting up soon.

I felt blood splatter on my face again. Ready to curse out Skyler again, I raised my head – and looked straight into Cal's eyes. He had armed himself. With real arms. From one of the bikers. My mouth was hanging wide open in mid curse. I shut it. I blinked. I watched him beat the biker to a pulp with his own arms. He splattered more blood on me.

“Good job,” I said. He grunted an answer at me. I think it meant, “grunt, thank you.” At least, I really hope it did.

Right, fine, call me a coward. Let's see if you have the courage to say anything else to a seven foot tall three hundred and fifty pound half-orc who's beating people with their own arms right in front of you. Didn't think so, so shut it.

He rounded on the next biker and swung away, but he never landed anything. Neither did the rest of us. Clearly he was the smartest of the bunch, because he never came back. Tully tracked him down after the fight and found out the kid had moved to Ohio to live with his aunt. Positive life choices, my friends. That's what it's all about.

It was quiet for a minute. Then it wasn't.

I'll say this for the Big Guy, he knew how to make an entrance. He burst through the front door and took half the wall with him. He let out this wild roar. On you or me it would've sounded ridiculous. On a guy that size it sounded pretty terrifying.

I have no idea what he was jacked up on – probably some combination of illegal steroids, DNA therapy, and black magic. Clearly he'd been human once. That was before they'd made him ten feet tall and muscled all out of reasonable proportion.

He slobbered like a rabid dog as he picked up Cal in one hand and tossed him over on top of Skyler as if he were no heavier than a baseball. That frightened me. When he picked up the motorcycle and threw it at me, that terrified me. I rolled off to the side and ducked behind a decorative shrub. He missed me by a whisker.

That's when I knew what I needed to do. I can't rightly say how I knew. It happens to me sometimes. My team thinks I'm the biggest badass out there, that I can do anything. I encourage that line of thinking. It makes life a lot easier when the underlings are a tad scared of you. I couldn't repeat the feat again if I tried. But right then, I just knew it would work.

So I righted the nearest bike – a pretty red one – and swung a leg over it. It took me so long to figure out how to start it that I started to have my doubts. But then it roared to life and the feeling of certainty came back. I barely blipped the throttle as I popped the clutch, but damn if I didn't near fell of the thing when it took off like a rocket. But nobody saw that part. They weren't paying attention yet.

The bike was headed the wrong way, so I leaned hard to the left. As we banked around in a crazy tight turn, there it was – right out in easy arm's reach. I dropped my left hand down to the ground and scooped the katana up in a clean, smooth motion as I rode by. I straightened up, the bike now pointed straight at the Big Guy, and I opened up the throttle all the way.

He wasn't far away, and that crazy machine accelerated so fast that it seemed even closer as I narrowed in on him. He gave me a crazy grin and planted himself right in front of me. I laughed like a madman and raised the sword up to a high ready. I had about enough time to blink and then I was on him. I swung.

Somehow the sunofabitch wasn't there. Don't ask me how. At that speed and at that range it shouldn't have been possible. But there you have it. The bike wobbled for a minute under my swing, and I fought to get it under control again. And then the wall was right there. It all happened so fast I didn't even have time to think about it. I just popped a wheelie as I rode in, almost by instinct.

I told you, I don't know how I actually do these things. I can't even ride a motorcycle. Went out and tried again when I finally made it home. Never left the parking lot, and let me tell you what, even then it ended badly. I have no plans to ever get on one of those deathmobiles again. But somehow – maybe the engine just had that much juice, I don't know – somehow the thing went straight up the wall.

I lay off the throttle as it climbed. I didn't even really think about it, I was just too scared to do much else. And then, about thirty feet straight up, the thing just stopped. It hung there for a moment – a really long moment, just like in those old cartoons. It wobbled for a second, so I leaned into the turn. And then it started back down again.

I had that feeling again, and I listened. I just gunned it, straight down. I must've hit a bump on the wall along the way because somehow the front wheel came out again. The next thing I knew I was on flat ground again and once more pointed straight at the Big Guy.

Skyler had conjured up a fire elemental out of some netherworld or other and it was running this guy in circles. Cal was beating on him from the other side, and Harv's drones had come back to give us some air support. The Big Guy was handling all of it somehow.

But his back was to me, and wide open. He didn't even see me coming. And the noise... you've never heard anything as loud as that fire elemental melting concrete slab while drone machine guns fire and cal bellows like an orc. Well, unless you're old enough to remember an AC/DC concert, maybe that was close. So he didn't hear me coming, either. I hunkered down and raised the sword again.

In a heartbeat it was all over. His head ended up on the other side of the square. His body lay beneath me, bleeding out through the neck. Decapitation will kill even most dark magic creatures. Whatever this guy was, he wasn't that. He never had a chance.

Somehow I managed to get off that beast of a machine without killing myself. I even managed to play it cool. My reputation with the boys went up a notch again. But as soon as the bike hit the ground, that feeling of certainty went away again. Like I said, it only comes sometimes. I hid it like a champ, though, strutting around like I owned the place.

I guess at that point we basically did. I mean, we'd kind of destroyed all the security around it. So we strutted inside. The staff didn't even bother us. They took us right up to Bernadino's suite. Beautiful room, all hand carved wood and silks and gold plating. Tully said one of the paintings was a Rembrandt, and he'd know. You'd think a guy that rich could hire better security. But then, that probably wouldn't have stopped us either. He knelt on the ground in terror, put his hands behind his head, and wept. I walked straight up and put my pistol right on his temple.

And there you were, sitting on the floor playing with your dolls.

It was the first time I'd ever met you. Hell, your mom hadn't even told me you existed. But when she'd told me you were here, I'd taken the job. Paid my men out of my own pocket, even. But I'd told myself that was it. When I got you back to your mother, we were through. What the hell kind of father would I be, right?

Yet there you were, sitting on the floor playing with your dolls.

I was ready to waste this guy. I needed to waste this guy. And not because I wanted to, either. I've never once killed a man just because I wanted to. But if I didn't, he'd never stop looking for us. Not ever. And Palmeri had money. Tons of it, just waiting for him to spend it. If he went looking for us, the whole world went looking for us. So I had to do it.

But there you were, sitting on the floor playing with your dolls.

I couldn't do it, not with you there. I dropped the gun and kicked him in gut instead. He doubled over, heaving on the floor. I bundled you up and took you outside, telling you that we were off to see your mommy. You had no idea what was going on. Somehow you hadn't even heard the chaos outside. As we walked down the hall, I heard the gunshot.

They told me later that Tully did it. I can't lie – I'm glad he did. They'd still be hunting us if he hadn't. But that was the day I gave it all up. I paid off the guys – gave them huge bonuses, even – and shut the place down.

Tully got recruited by the CIA and disappeared. I hear he's out starting wars in third world countries now. If the news is any indication, he's damned good at it. Harv went to work corporate cyber security. I'm not sure exactly where, but I hear they're paying him through the nose. Cal made a name for himself in the personal bodyguard world. When celebrities want the best, they cal Cal. Skyler's built himself an actual dark tower somewhere. I heard he kidnapped a princess, with a real dragon and everything. Evil wizard sounds like a pretty cool gig.

They call me every now and then, trying to entice me back. But I've never taken them up on it. I miss it sometimes. Other times I don't want anything to do with it. In the end, though, it doesn't matter. I'm simply too busy, and my new job is too demanding.

I took the hardest job of all. I'm a dad.


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