(It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, and I really wanted to get back into it. It helps me quite a bit with writing to be able to just bang something out between short stories or blog entries or whatever. Sort of a palate cleanser, or a chance to try something new.
This particular story was probably thought up because I’ve been talking with a friend who’s making a weretiger in a new World of Darkness game he’s playing in. Russian mobster and everything! The image just stuck with me, and I had to write something with it. I wanted to play with a more conversational style, with colloqualisms and weird cadences and tense shifts and everything. I’ve had to go back several times and find another way to phrase a thing, just to keep in character. It was fun! Also, one of these days I’m going to have to write a story about a nice tiger. 1620 words.)
You hear all sorts of rumors in this line of work. One week, word on the street is that Twomegs finally came out of the closet and fled the city to prevent him and his boy-toy from getting clipped. The next, you hear Jackson’s gotten his mistress pregnant and now he’s either got to get a divorce or abortion. Or you hear that the Boss has gotten one of those full-body reconstructions that you’ve seen on the vids, and now he looks like the Incredible Hulk or something. Most of the time it’s complete bull-shit, though there’s a grain of truth in there somewhere half the time. Jackson really did have a pregnancy scare, though it was with a different mistress then everyone had thought.
Anyway, you learn to take the things you hear with a grain of salt. But you still keep your ear to the ground, because every rumor has to start from somewhere. When I heard that the Boss had hired one of those manimals to make the collection rounds for him, it was one of those things I wouldn’t be surprised if it were true. Most of those things were taking up jobs that were more physical than anything — construction work, firefighting, police work if you were on the straight and narrow. A few of ’em, though, they were bound to be attracted to more criminal enterprises. Gangs could always use some extra muscle, and those manimals had it in spades. The right one, with a little bit of smarts and luck, could go places around these parts.
I wasn’t expecting us to be the first kids on our block to land one, though. We do all right — we own downtown and the western half of the city, a few suburbs, but we’re still a local operation. I figure one of those manimals would be looking to join a big time crew before we’d ever get one ourselves. Figured I’d be trying to shoot one before driving one around to make a stop.
So when I show up for work one day and they tell me I’m not driving the Crown Vic today but the biggest van we’ve got, I think I can be forgiven for thinking we’re in for some serious shit. Like, maybe I’m heading out to the east side for a scuffle with the Eighty or something. And that just scares the piss out of me. We give those assignments to drivers that have pissed off somebody important, or new guys who think they’re tough and have something to prove. I’m not either of those, as far as I know. So I’m thinking, “What did I do?” and “How do I get out of this?”
It’s almost a relief when the door to the pick-up location opens and this giant squeezes out of it. He looks like a cartoon tiger, bright orange fur with stripes, yellow eyes, huge bare hands and feet, but he’s fucking enormous. Like, eight feet tall and more than half that wide. Gotta be. He towers over the bouncer standing outside, and he’s wearing a double-breasted pinstripe suit that makes him look even thicker than he is. That wide-brimmed fedora on top of his head, with his ears sticking out through little holes, almost looks funny it’s so small. But I don’t dare laugh. When he walks up to the car and leans down to stare at me through the window, I want to turn on the car and keep driving until I’m out of gas.
“Are you driver?” He rumbles in a thick Russian accent, his muzzle twisting around the words like they’re uncomfortable. I can’t tell if it’s the English or words in general.
I nod, trying to close my mouth. I must look like a fucking half-wit here. But maybe he’s used to that. He just opens the door and squeezes into the truck.
That pinstripe suit rolls over me like an avalanche, and for a few ticks I’m jammed against the driver’s side door. The whole car rocks as he settles himself in, but to me it just feels like waves of pressure. Sometimes I can’t breathe against the door, and then sometimes I’m just cramped in my seat. The tiger doesn’t seem to notice how much room he’s taking up. He pulls the seat all the way back, but it doesn’t really help. Then he drops a piece of paper in my lap. I look down. It’s an address, in a town a few hours away. “Take me there.”
His voice bounces off the walls and rattles the shocks. I simply nod and start her up.
After a while, I start to get used to it. It’s my first time with one of them, and I’m nervous as all hell, but I’m thinking he’s gonna be sticking around for a while so I might as well get to know him while I can. So I try to strike up a friendly conversation.
“So. You from around here?” I laugh to let him know it’s a joke.
He turns to look at me on a neck that isn’t there, and gives me this look like I’m the dumbest person he’s ever seen. He turns to look out the windshield. “Nyet.”
“Heh, I knew that. I’m not from around here either; I’m from out East. Or what’s left of it now. Can you believe those dumb fucks still on the coast, like the ocean’s gonna turn back any day now?”
The tiger is silent. All right, so he doesn’t give a rat’s ass about that. I’m guessing it’s peanuts compared to whatever’s going on in Siberia or wherever the fuck.
“So what’s your name, fella?”
Again he looks at me. This time it’s cool and calculated, like he’s trying to find that vein in my neck. “Pyotr.” And he says it like it’s the most natural thing in the world. He even rolls the ‘r’ at the end, and it almost sounds like a little purr.
“Pee-odor,” I repeat. He just nods. “That’s a pretty cool name. I guess your daddy named you after one of them czars when you were born.”
“I was not born, I was made. I took the name of the first man I kill for money. Before that, only number.”
I don’t know what to make of that. So I just talk about myself. “Yeah? My daddy named me after his pa. Clarence. I hated it when I was a kid, but now I like the ring of it. Clarence.” I glance at him at a red light. He’s shifting in his seat, clearly not comfortable. I can’t tell if it’s the suit he’s trying to bust out of, or the seat that must be cutting off the blood to his legs. He takes a deep breath, and the light changes. I make the turn on the freeway.
“You know, I always thought tigers were real majestic creatures.” As soon as I say it, I know that this is a bad subject. But I keep going. “When I was a youngun my daddy used to take me to the zoo, and I’d just stare at them tigers all day. Even in their cages, they were—“
I glance over, and I see him giving me this look like he’s going to punch my spine right out of my back. I nearly piss myself right there. I look back at the road, and don’t say another word. He’s more than content to travel the rest of the way with as few words as he can make.
It’s getting to be evening when we finally got to the address. I stop the car down the block, but I think they were expecting us. A guy comes out of the house in jeans and a wifebeater and shit-kicker boots and he takes one look at the tiger stepping out of the car and he tears off down the street.
And I swear to God, I think I hear Pyotr start to purr. That fucker was definitely smiling. He growled, “Stay there.” Then he took off after him.
Five minutes was all it took for him to bring the man back to the house, kicking and screami
ng. If there was anybody in other houses who heard it, they didn’t come out. They both disappeared into the man’s house, and then there was more screaming. I could hear it over the engine. Lots of it, multiple voices, then nothing.
Pyotr reappeared just as I heard the first sirens in the distance. His jacket was unbuttoned, and his muzzle was slick with blood. When he got in the car he filled the whole cabin with the smell of it, and he put a wad of cash and some jewelry in the cupholder. The money was soaked through. I nearly gagged.
“Drive. The cops are coming.” He looked at me and I couldn’t look back. I got the hell out of there as fast as I could, and I drove him to the drop-off without saying a word. He muttered a half-hearted thanks before he got out and walked across the parking lot to the back entrance of the strip club. With a flash of his tail, he was gone.
A week later I started hearing rumors about the new manimal in town. Some say he’s a man-eater, that he eats part of the people he collects from if they’re late. Some people say that he killed a made guy for bumping into him, and nothing was done about it. I don’t know how they got started, and I don’t care. I’m sure as hell ain’t spreading them around to nobody.
Because I’m pretty sure they’re absolutely true.