The thieving derelict known as Skaggs entered the dreary, scum-stained alleyway with anticipation. Close behind him trod Cliff the hippie, a character Skaggs could relate to. Except he wasnt really Cliff: he was Dwayne Greene, who, with time and experience, had little difficulty gaining Skaggs trust.
This is it, he thought to himself. Lets hope it has a happy ending. This would either be Greenes doom or his greatest victory yet. And for the first time in ages, he actually cared.
Officer Dwayne Greene had been working undercover for so long he was starting to feel like a criminal himself. With each mind-taxing operation, he wondered if his pension could possibly make up for this strain on his life.
At first the effects were minor and expected, like the copious doses of cannabis he had to consume while in character; but at length he found himself becoming more and more corrupt, to the point of having extramarital affairs and committing minor offenses. He was only half conscious of the connection. His career had made him a borderline nihilist and he remained that way for years. Now, in his late 40s, he was just starting to come to terms with this sordid truth.
It was sheer coincidence that Greenes blooming lucidity came to him just as this case emerged. A week before he got involved, the LAPD had successfully busted two men scoring narcotics from a mysterious and nameless drug baron. The latter somehow escaped. One man was shot down when he drew a gun, while the other was successfully subdued. Under interrogation, all the man knew of the elusive dealer was an alias.
I dont have a goddamn clue where hes from or anything, he said. None of us do. We just call him the Icky Man.
This wasnt the first reported encounter. All attempts to arrest or even confront the Icky Man (as he was now called) had failed, and with his appearance came strange occurrences. In one case, a drug user named Albert jumped in front of a moving police car. His overall complexion looked starved beyond all reason. They weren't sure whether to classify it as suicide or not, but he was killing himself either way.
Greene was eventually assigned to the perilous Icky Man hunt, either because he was reliable or expendable. He wasnt sure which. This didnt worry him at first. What he lacked in integrity, he made up for in shrewdness. He was more bothered by how mock-congratulatory Officer Palmer was at the station a few days before he started.
Got the Shitty Man case, Dwayne?
Yeah. Icky Man.
Whatever, theyre all icky to me. Hows your wife... Margaret, right?
Yeah. Nagging harpy as usual, but shes okay.
Palmer gave a laugh. Greene didnt appreciate it, but merely smiled in response. Most men are betrayed by their eyes, but Greene, a master of deceit, concealed his contempt.
Whats your plan? asked Palmer. Lure him out, or what?
Well, the usual preliminary stuff first, gathering information. Then Im hoping one of the druggies I know can hook me up, and Ill eventually coordinate an ambush if I survive that long.
Ah! One of your little fake buddies, huh? Palmer laughed again and this time Greene couldnt help but join him; in truth, Palmer wasnt really his friend either.
Greene ended up being the only one on the force who actually saw the Icky Man for more than a few seconds. He was executing a favorite method of non-confrontational surveillance: camouflaged, lying prostrate on a black tarp spread out over a high fire escapea rather crude but effective means of eavesdropping. From here he awaited an imminent meeting. From here he ascertained the bizarre nature of his target.
Greene couldnt decide what tipped him off first. The Icky Mans choice to conceal himself with a hat and bandana were understandable enough, so maybe it was the fiends hobbling-yet-menacing gait, or maybe his hands, bone-white with fingers like crab legs.
Astonishingly, none of this seemed to concern the scumbags who approached this strange entity for their fix. They would just creep up to him anxiously and score their package, occasionally glancing around for intruders.
Poor miserable fools, thought Greene. Then he realized he was hardly better.
The clients wallets were never drawn. All the Icky Man wanted in return was his hand on their foreheads for a minute, like a faith healer. Afterwards, their eyes were baggier, their skin more pale, yet they didnt act any weaker. They simply strolled away satisfied. Never a word was spoken.
Then the Icky Man disappeared. He replaced his hobble with a swift dash, and he was gone. Thus Greene decided he was incapable of shadowing him and must resort to direct confrontation.
The disturbing nature of this incident instilled in him an overwhelming sense of dread. When he phoned it in to his superiors, they seemed no more concerned than they were before. But Greene, a hard-boiled cynic for longer than he could remember, was severely shaken. Over the course of his career he bore witness to a number of sickening and strange things, yet this case horrified him the most.
Luckily, it turned out that Skaggs knew just where and when to find the much-coveted rogue, and agreed to introduce his good friend, Cliff. As elating as this new was to Greene, it also felt like an invitation to death row. The emotional apathy he had grown around him like a crust was dissipating.
On the eve he was to confront his target, he decided to go home first. And after walking through the door, feeling weighed down by the psychological manacles of his infidelity, he couldnt help but embrace Margaret and weep.
Hey, whats wrong? she asked, bemused by the rare sight of her husbands catharsis.
Brushing away his tears, he managed to spit out his hauntingly true answer.
An hour later, Cliff the hippie was walking into a narrow city alleyway with his grinning pseudo-friend.
Dont worry about making a good first impression, whispered Skaggs. I dont think this guy discriminates.
Greene wanted to retort with, Clearly not, if he puts up with your sorry ass, but decided against it.
They reached the dead-end of the alley. At first nobody was there. Then the Icky Man just sort of appeared, seemingly from the darkness itself. The exalted criminal was stone-still as two potential clients saluted him in unison. He gazed at Greene, analyzing him, the way a hawk gazes at a sitting rabbit. Greene tried to smile.
If the shit hits the fan, thought the veteran cop, I have no qualms against taking this creep out. One look into his milky white eyes told Greene that this shrouded villain had no scruples whatsoever.
Then those eyes narrowed and looked over at Skaggs, whereupon the two seemed to have a conversation without words. After a moment, Skaggs turned to Greene and a look of indignant betrayal replaced his wretched smile. He drew an eight-inch knife from his pocket, as if someone had taken his remote control and pressed the Kill button. All that hard-earned trust vanished with one glance from the Icky Man. Although alarmed, Greene had no trouble seizing Skaggs by the arm, drawing a handgun, and walloping him in the head with it. Skaggs fell to the floor unconscious.
Before Greene had time to yell Freeze, you bastard! the Icky Man spoke. Greene was stunned, for this voice was unlike any he had heard before: the words were being issued directly into his head. Deep, whispered words boomed through his mind.
The Icky Man emitted a strange coughing-cackling sound, and while its meaning was cryptic, it was still intimidating. Greene was utterly confused and disorientated, but he held his ground and struggled to regain his wits.
You... you can give up right now, he managed, feeling sick.
But I wont. Far too much work to be done. Consume... lives.
Greene now understood the true meaning of evil. Those crooks and junkies he put away werent evil, nor were the other dealers, but the Icky Man sure as hell was. His words revealed just how happily driven he was to corrupt and harm society, not for subsistence, but for pleasure. Greene was somehow encouraged by this fact. He now knew that, despite his own flaws, he was nowhere near evil, at least compared to the man in front of him.
Right as the thought occurred to Greene, the Icky Man started to float closer. Strangely, Greenes first instinct wasnt to shoot, but to see the face of his enemy. He yanked away Ickys bandana and knocked off the hat, all in one smooth, swiping motion.
Greene felt a distinct chill envelope him, even in the cold air. The Icky Man was not a man at all, but something out of a nightmare. He was crowned with a mane of unkempt hair, a halo of filth. A myriad of spiny teeth surrounded a cesspool of a mouth, diseased like that of a Komodo dragon, dripping God knows what. The creatures use of telepathy was now understood, as he was only capable of a guttural hiss.
The Icky Man instantly grabbed Greene by the coatout of frustration or courage or bothand pulled him forward. Greene was too shocked to move or pull the trigger. He was close enough to detect the bastards breath, the breath of someone who had eaten sins for breakfast and washed them down with human folly, but he hardly noticed this. He was distracted by the two pools of white death staring at him, and the burning voice in his head: I can see right through you, policeman.
Those horrid teeth pierced into Greenes shoulder, introducing their liquid toxins into his bloodstream. After wrestling free he fell back and landed next to Skaggs. Instead of shooting, Greene opted to pick up Skaggs knife. Guns, he thought, are too automatic and mechanized. Stabbing is a more personal gesture. This wasnt even about his job anymore. He needed to kill this thing. Greene threw off his coat and sprang forward.
Despite his septic wound and Ickys jagged fingers effectively gashing into his chest, Greene brought down the knife with a vehement strength he had never felt before. His foe halted and gave a tremor with the knife lodged deep in his vitals. Greene sank to the ground and landed on his back just as the horrible Icky Man burst into flames.
As he lay there, Greene tilted his head back and looked at the stars. Among their twinkling was something else. Maybe it was a trauma-induced hallucination, but his senses were showered by a brilliant light, and with it he felt a freakish sensation of spiritual relief, not Christian, not Jewish, Islamic, Hindu or Buddhist, nor anything in particular, just a feeling of purification having done his duty. Then, even faster than the blood flowing from his body, the collective sum of his moral epiphanies flashed through his aching head all at once. He loved his wife; she only argued with him because she cared. He loved many people; he was just distracted by the ones he hated. He could never attempt to love himself anymore, but more importantly he forgave himself. This thought gave him comfort as he and the demon faded away.
© 2008 Devin Morse