They get to the financial district and it’s the usual hustle and bustle. The bankers sit in their chairs in high-rise office buildings and the corporate drones analyze the stock market, manipulating the prices of shares to further subjugate the saps that think they can get rich off a rigged system. The mere smell and sight of the place disgusts Querrick and Isabel and Lykas don’t know what to make of it, it all seems so vast and intricate like a giant circuit board. Querrick looks down at the hundreds of soulless beings going about their lives like they’re actually living, going down dark alleys and backdoor entrances to the underground casinos to gather more illegal (but government subsidized) funds to pour into the parasitic machine that feeds off the labor of the masses. He doesn’t find Serius yet, but he senses he will within the hour. Querrick leads the kids to the roof of an out-of-the-way building that looks run down but is really the most illustrious underground casino in all of Carnage, City of Sin Casino.
“Alright,” Querrick says, “when you’re trying to find a mark, its best to analyze their character based on the info given. Their facial expression, the squint of their eyes, the state of their hair. Everything is important when figuring out what type of person your target is, therefore, it becomes easier to surmise their location without too much guesswork.”
The kids nod and watch as hundreds of shady individuals, and some drunkards, go in and out of the casino. Some with ladies on their arms, some with empty pockets, others with full pockets with the cash placed specifically to make it seem like they have nothing on them. Querrick scours the area until he sees a gangly and angular figure with a limp walking toward the casino. He wears a black hat with a red ribbon around it with a pinstripe suit, the hat lowered so one can’t see his eyes. Isabel looks around absorbing everything but Lykas catches on to who Querrick has his attention on and figures out that’s the target.
“So the broke pimp is the target, huh?” Lykas says, “interesting.”
“broke pimp?” Querrick chuckles, “good one.”
“So how you planning to do the job?” Lykas is getting into the role.
“Well,” Querrick says, “if it were a simple assassination, I’d take him with a poisonous dart and be done with it. However, the beneficiary wants his head so I gotta go up close and personal.”
“And how are you planning to do that?” Isabel asks with no choice but to play along.
“Simple,” Querrick says, “go in, win a bunch of cash, strike up a conversation, lead him to an alley, take his head and call it a night.”
“I doubt plans ever go that simply,” Isabel says, “especially for a soldier.”
“You’d be correct.” Querrick says, “But, I’m no ordinary soldier. Part of my services was specifically assassinations, so I’m versed on the matter.”
“Alright,” Querrick says, “I gotta job for the two of you.”
Isabel and Lykas perk up, Isabel more begrudgingly as she didn’t want ot appear too excited about the mission.
Querrick goes in his pocket and hands them some authentic Carnage Gold, “See that bum over there with the white cup and whiter beard?” He points across the way and the kids spot the bum, “pay him off and say, ‘Operation Head-Snatcher’. He’ll know what that means and be careful. A lot of traffickers roll around these streets at night.”
Isabel and Lykas turn to go as Querrick says, “and get back here ASAP, I don’t wanna have to track you guys down again.”
Querrick hops down from the rooftop into a dark alley.
“Never thought I’d see you back in Carnage, Headhunter.” A tall man with a hunch back dressed like an old-fashioned investigative journalist emerges from the shadows, “So, who’s the mark?”
“Serius Presley,” Querrick answers without looking up, “you got the clothes?”
Querrick grabs the black back and switches out his clothes to look more like a gambler.
“How’s it been Arthur?” Querrick asks.
“Eh, same old same.” Arthur says, “a lot of kids going missing and a lot of money disappearing. Seems like something big’s about to go down in ole Carnage.”
Querrick scoffs, “isn’t something big always going down?”
“Not like this,” Arthur says, “the church’s been quiet for way too long and the government’s been too laissez faire lately. The trafficker’s been having a field day and the value of Adrena’s Grace has been skyrocketing. Sadistic bastards!”
“Figured as much,” Querrick says, “especially with the Dark Commander and High Priestess holed up at Skull Mountain conducting secret missions.”
“Ah,” Arthur says, “so that’s what they’re up to. Any idea why they sent the Headhunter after a nobody like Serius Presley?”
“Don’t know, don’t care,” Querrick says, “they want his head and they’re gonna get it. Oh, don’t look at me like that, I already know the game.”
“Oh, I know you know,” Arthur says, “question is how you gonna get out this time?”
“Well,” Querrick says, “I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.”
A pebble drops from the roof and Querrick and Arthur look up to see Lykas and Isabel waving. Querrick puts up a hand and Arthur looks at him.
“Long story,” Querrick says.
“Then tell me the short version,” Arthur says.
“I had them pay off Hector, the town bum.”
Arthur squints, “just what the hell are you planning?”
“A bit of a spectacle.” Querrick says, “military style.”
“Well,” Arthur sighs, “can always count on you to give me a story, huh?”
Querrick nods and smirks, “just be ready when things get out of hand.”
Arthur nods and ducks back into the shadows without another word.
Querrick looks up and says, “you two stay there and enjoy the show from above, you sense anyone, and I mean anyone, coming, take cover and be prepared to fight. I don’t work with liabilities.”
Lykas gives a thumbs up and Isabel give a grim nod tinged with nervousness.
Querrick goes to City of Sin Casino without another word.
Querrick goes into the casino without a hitch and finds a roulette table to sit at. The dealer asks what numbers he wants to bet on and Querrick puts all his chips on black 15. The dealer asks if he’s sure and Querrick nods and the audience gathered watches as the white ball lands on black 15 and Querrick doubles his chips. The dealer asks Querrick to bet again and he says red 29, putting all his chips in. The dealer asks again if he’s sure and Querrick nods as the dealer spins the table and the audience watches the ball ping around until it lands on red 29. The audience is impressed and Querrick gets up and tells the dealer he wants to cash in the chips. The dealer nods and Querrick takes the chips, puts them in his pocket in the professional gambler manner and goes to the table. The cash comes out at five thousand Carnage Raw, the default currency of the city. Querrick asks the bookie how much Carnage Gold does five thousand Carnage Raw convert to, the bookie tells him fifty (which means City of Sin is having a low night). Querrick nods and tells the bookie to convert the cash and he does. Querrick hits the slots and strikes lucky seven’s twice. He goes to a different bookie and cashes in, this time making twenty-five hundred Carnage Raw (twenty-five Carnage Gold) then goes to the pool table. Querrick is on quite the hot streak; however, since he’s only hit two different spots and cashed in with two different bookies, the house hasn’t caught on yet. Not that Querrick’s cheating, he’s naturally gifted when it comes to predicting numbers and probability. It’s just that the house doesn’t like to lose and doesn’t always pay up, even when it loses fairly. Especially when it loses fairly.
This time Querrick goes to the pool table and here’s when it gets tricky. The audience likes to see someone whoop the tail off the house; however, the ones who do tend to lose their tails if you catch the drift. The trick is to win low and give up because the house or the comp is too stiff, that way the people think you’re a winner but also think you didn’t throw the match for fear of having security ‘chat’ with you.
When Querrick gets to the table the spot is surprisingly dead, even for a low night. Querrick plays a couple games and wins low as part of the plan. He only wins three hundred Carnage Raw (three Carnage Gold). Querrick sighs heavily and pretends to wipe sweat off his brow.
“Stiff game, isn’t it?” A gangly and angular figure with a black hat and pinstripe suit limps up to the table, “Mind if I have a go at it?”
“Sure, go ahead.” Querrick says.
Serius Presley, a former investment banker and stockbroker for Carnage International. Fired because of fraud and conspiracy to overthrow the corporation and expose the beneficiaries that fund it.
The same beneficiaries that want his head on a platter.
Querrick watches Presley play with rapt attention, observing his mannerisms, his movements, his handle of the pool stick, his expression when he concentrates. Learning everything he can about his target before he takes him out.
“So,” Presley says as he hits an eight ball into the corner pocket, “what brings the Headhunter to City of Sin?”
“You know of me?” Querrick asks unsurprised.
“But of course.” Presley says as he hits a nine ball into a side pocket, “your work in the Two Great Wars are the stories of legends, some say the stories of Gods. Although, I have to say you don’t look so intimidating in the flesh.”
“That’s because I’m not in tactical gear,” Querrick says, “and besides, I’m done with war.”
“Yeah,” Presley says, “I hear that. Even the best have their fill. So, what brings you to City of Sin?”
“I’m looking to make some cash, that’s number one.” Querrick says, “I’ve already made seventy-seven Carnage Gold, not nearly enough. Guess that’s what I get for coming on a low night.”
“Yeah,” Presley says, “City of Sin’s been having a lot of those lately. All this shit about traffickers and children coming up missing is really bad for business. You know, since kids are used as runners for backdoor deals and such.”
“Yeah,” Querrick says, “disgusting really. But, survival is the dirtiest game bar none.”
“Ain’t that the truth,” Presley says, “so, what’s the second reason?”
“I’m looking for a place to store it for a rainy day,” Querrick says, “well, not so much rainy but stormy if you catch the drift.”
Presley raises an eyebrow as his eyes alone turn to Querrick, “I didn’t know highly ranked veterans engaged in such things.”
“We don’t.” Querrick says, “however, since my parents are The Dark Commander and The High Priestess, it comes with the trade.”
“Damn,” Presley shakes his head, “must be rough having parents that high up.”
“Damn straight,” Querrick says, “everything’s a secret. There’s always an agenda. Motives are always two, three, sometimes fourfold.”
“Sure you should be telling me this,” Presley asks, “with info like that there will be a ransom put on your head.”
“You really think anyone would be dumb enough to mess with the son of the two most powerful forces in all of Carnage?” Querrick asks, “Especially when that son is the Chief Commander of The Dark Battalion?”
“So it’s true then,” Presley smirks, “you’re a goddamn monster.”
“So,” Presley asks, “how much cash you looking to make?”
“Twenty million Carnage Gold.”
The pool stick slips out of Presley’s hand before he strikes, and a dumbfounded expression consumes his face as he looks at Querrick straight on. Querrick’s expression is stoic as death.
“Are you bloody insane?!” Presley whispers, “that’s the money of royals!”
“I’m well aware,” Querrick says, “I’ll tell you the real reason I’m here. To take you head. However, I have other plans.”
“Wait—” Presley says as he begins to back away.
“Don’t run.” Querrick says, “The beneficiaries of Carnage International want your head on a platter, so they sent me. Like I said, I’m not here to take your head because I’m done with war. . . in all its forms. I’m actually here to save your ass, but I’ll need your help to do it.”
Serius Presley stops backing away and returns as he sees Querrick means what he says.
“What do you need me to do?”
“Simple,” Querrick says, “we’re going to buy our freedom.”
“Yeah,” Querrick says, “my contract is worth approximately ten million three hundred thousand Carnage Gold; the bounty on your head is worth seven million eight hundred thousand Carnage Gold. Put that together and it comes to about eighteen million and some change. We’re going to accumulate twenty million, hand it over to the beneficiaries and the church and walk away scot free.”
“But why work with me out of all people?”
“Because,” Querrick says, “I know you had a daughter that was taken and killed for her Adrena’s Grace, you found out she was killed by the same corporation you worked for so you tried to take them down. You got close. They didn’t like that, so they got rid of you. Now they want your head on a platter and they sent the Headhunter to get the job done.”
Querrick says, “so Serius, how about we get our freedom back? And, you can get the retribution for your daughter.”
Serius’ face matches his name when he says, “I’m in.”
“Good.” Querrick says, “now, about how we make this cash. . .”