“Jimmy! You’ve got to get off the streets, Spring Heeled Jack has put the word out, he’s after your head. I don’t know what you’ve done mate, but you’re fucking dead if you don’t hide.” Jimmy stared at the greasy little dipper standing in front him. Billy was not the sort of person you could rely on in a fight, and the way he was shifting his feet, it looked like either he’d pissed himself, or his brain was trying to get him to run.
“Thanks Billy, run and tell the lads I’ll need’em at the lock up.” Jimmy grunted, he could tell he’d given Billy the order he’d hoped for from the way Billy turned and scarpered, darting amongst the crowd, dipping as he went.
Jimmy took his bowler hat off and ran his hand through the stubble on his head, rather asking his hands feel like they were trying to hold onto a rough bar of soap, rather like the grip on his fear. How the fuck had Jack, THE Jack, found out who he was?. It was a moot point, he knew that. Whatever Jack knew, or what he thought he knew, Jimmy was a dead man. Sure, he was walking around and breathing now, but it would only be a matter of time before one of his boys found Jimmy had come to a very messy, not to say painful, end.
Acid rose into his mouth, and he spat it onto the pavement. Billy had been right, there was no way that he could stay on the streets and stay alive. There was no way that he could go home either. Anyone associated with him knew where he lived, and it wasn’t the most secure place in the world either. It didn’t need to be when he always had at least two lads on the door at any given time
He started walking, trying to work out how Jack had found out about him. He ran through all of his scams, flicking thorough them like a mental book. Everything he had done had been done on a small scale, with only a few people in each group, and nearly all of the groups had been kept apart from each other. Not all of the groups even knew that he was their boss. With an aether-born like Jack cutting his way through the criminal fraternity like a hot poker through a man’s eye, it no longer paid to have a large and well-known gang. Any gang that got too big was brutally cut down, sometimes even eradicated.
Drawing a blank as to which operation had put Jack onto him, he quickly ran through his other choices. Killing Jack was not exactly out, but he was one tough bastard and the lads weren’t signed up to him on a contract of ‘defend me to the death against an aether-born madman’. Some would help, especially Sparks, but for now, the only thing he could think of was getting to the lock-up and hiding.
Handing himself over meant that he would have fuck all chance of living. Jack was one of the most twisted psychos Jimmy would ever have the displeasure of meeting. He could feel his balls shrinking in fear at the thought of what he would go through. Death would be a kindness.
“Fuck! Fucking hell, bastard nut job!” fear robbed him of his usual vocabulary and he lengthened his stride. For once, the weight of his pistol in his pocket actually gave him some comfort. Handy with his fists, Jimmy had relied on his strength, his anger and his fast hands to keep people cowed. He rarely had to hit some more than once before the message got through, and he always made sure that he never pulled the trigger himself. Now though, now he felt fear like one of his marks. It tasted awful.
He shoved a man pushing a barrow out of the way, too impatient to wait for the poor sod to actually get out of the way on his own accord. He skirted around a Troll bitch, his fear rescinding enough to recognise just how messy an end he could come to if he tried the same thing.
Even here, on the packed streets of Manchester he didn’t feel safe. He tried to slow his feet, but his legs seemed to have a life of their own. A slate shattered onto the ground next to him and he looked up, the bones in his neck popping with the strain.
What the fuck was that? His eyes barely registered a shadow flitting onto the other side of the building’s roof. That was all he needed.
“Get out of the way! Fucking move!” Pistol out he sprinted through the crowd. Angry shouts followed him as he cut through the crowd like a cannon ball through infantry, knocking anyone in his way flying. Years of rugby and football at school paid dividends and he left a trail of destruction behind him.
Two minutes later and the sweat was truly flowing. His heart felt like it was going to burst, his lungs hurting with the effort. Despite being a fit man, sprinting through a crowd in a tailored tweed suit had taken it out of him. The fear had also robbed him of his strength and the memory of his first murder flashed into his head. He had felt this way then. Sick, sweaty, clammy hands, fast breathing and an almost overwhelming desire to take a shit.
Billy appeared at the next corner.
“I’ve got the lads boss, those what would come. Had to promise them a fiver each. Sparks is all powered up and ready to go. I tell you, that man’s ready for Bedlam.”
They walked around the corner. The lock-up was just a few yards away, and three of his boys were keeping the crowd away from the door.
“This way mister Harris.” shouted one of them, beckoning with his hand. There was a zipping noise and three bars of metal appeared in his chest. He collapsed to his knees, a surprised look on his face, coughed a gobbet of blood and fell to the ground face first.
Time slowed down for Jimmy. He watched as the two remaining boys drew their guns and started to shoot at the rooftop directly behind him. He felt Billy tugging at his sleeve, but it was as if the wind was blowing it. He tried to get his legs to move. Before they had been all too willing to move, now it felt like he was wading waist-deep in a river.
More metal darts showered down, each one of them punching their way through his boys, none missing. Blood showered over everyone nearby, causing cries of horror, fear and excitement.
“For fuck’s sake Jimmy! Get a bloody move on!” Time sped up, the last of his boy’s bodies hitting the floor, and he felt his legs working again. He surged for the door, spotting Sparks in the shadows. A stream of aether burned through the air above his head and he dove through the door way. There was a strangled scream from behind. He shot a glance over his shoulder and saw Billy lying on the ground, a dart jutting out of his back like a mainsail.
“Get in Jimmy! Get in!” Sparks shoved him hastily down the corridor, aether streams pouring from his hands, “Bastard’s damn hard to hit!”
They turned down the next corridor, passing through another group of his boys. Every single one of them looked like they were shitting themselves, but they all had a tight grip on their weapons and none looked like they would back down from this fight. Five pounds was a bloody fortune to the likes of them, and nearly all of them had debts on the books of the loan sharks that filled Manchester’s streets.
“Ten pounds each if you kill this bastard good and dead! Twenty to the man that brings me his head.” The boys moved out into the previous corner and Sparks hastily shut the metal door that marked the first of the lock-up’s true defences.
“Keep moving Jimmy. I’ll hold this door. The next has some bloody strong wards on it. No way that git’s going to get past those! There are ten more lads at the second.”
Muffled shots started to ring out, the sound barely penetrating the door. Screams and shouts were also mixed in. A lot more screams and shouts than shots to be precise.
Jimmy started to run again. He ran through the next doorway and slammed the door shut, dropping a bar across it, pressing down to make sure that it would hold. Turning he ran for the next door, which was just a few feet away. Sparks was as good as his word. Ten more of his lads stood ready, guns, knives and assorted weapons in hand.
“Shut this door and shoot the bastard to pieces if he comes through that one! Understand! Fifty quid to the man that kills him!” Fear and desperation were making Jimmy more than generous, but he was finally realising that you really couldn’t take it with you when you died. All his wealth, all his trapping of luxury meant nothing right now. Spring Heeled Jack wanted him dead, and if he succeeded then nothing that Jimmy had achieved would count for anything.
He kept moving, coming up to the final door in the lock-up. Three inches thick, it was covered in arcane symbols, fetishes hanging from every spare piece of metal that wasn’t written on. Stepping through into the darkened chamber he didn’t bother with lights. More shouts and shots started to come down the corridor.
“Oh God!” he strained desperately at the door, pushing with all of his weight. It fought him as if it thought him undeserving of its protection. Mebbe I am, but I’m damned if some fucking door does for me! With one final, muscle-popping effort he pushed it shut and, after hastily groping around, propped a large metal rod into the grooves on the floor and door.
Panting, he wiped the sweat from his forehead and gingerly felt his way to the chair he had seen before shutting the door.
“Let’s see you get through that you bastard. No-one stands a cat’s chance in hell of getting through that door without my say so!” He grinned at the thought of Spring Heeled Jack standing amidst a pile of corpses, flummoxed by the door. The smile fell from his face like Icarus from the sky as he heard the sound of metal on leather. The sound of a knife being stropped to a keen edge. Slowly he turned around, blind in the darkness as a voice softly spoke.
“Oh, good, I was worried that they might be able to get in before we’ve finished our little chat.”