The Bear of Berlin stomped onto the dance floor and tore Anna away from Kodek’s lips.
12:00 ante meridiem (and 34 seconds) on New Year’s Day.
“Wait!” was all Kodek managed to get out, trying to grab The Bear by the wrist, but his jacket had been covered in so much black slime-shit and blood (whose?) that Kodek’s hand slipped off like bacon from a greased pan.
Too late. Way too late.
The Bear had his Luger in his right hand and the gun — and seconds later, Bear’s entire FIST was being crammed into Anna’s mouth and down her throat, her gagging choked back while her eyeballs bulged and leaked, her neck expanding like that chick from “V” who swallowed the rat whole-
And the Bear fired the gun – several times, Kodek was sure he’d emptied the entire Luger into the insides of Anna’s gut. And when Bear pulled his hand back out of her throat like a magician pulling a rabbit from a top hat, he was no longer gripping his Luger. Instead, he had the fucking boa constrictor tentacle-alien-Thing by its neck (if you could call that part of it a neck) and was yanking it up from the depths of Anna’s guts.
And when it was part-way out of her mouth, Anna choking to death on it, The Bear of Berlin opened his German chops and bit down on it, bit into it, tearing juicy, slime-slicked flesh away with a wet, sickening CRUNCH…
And Kodek shot him in the head.
Way, way too late…
Somewhere else, on some other timeline altogether,, The Bear of Berlin was peeking through the closet door, left ajar. Just barely ajar, but barely was all he needed. He could see.
The closet was in some sort of glorious office that looked like it could have been the set of some judge’s chambers on Law & Order. Bear stood quietly and listened, not making a move…
He watched as Kodek entered. The man in the tux was playing a game of cards with himself and drinking a martini alone. He might’ve had company, or been expecting company, judging from the stack of poker chips at the corner of the desk blotter. Or maybe he was going out to play poker. Whatever, that was just about the least important thing in the universe right at that moment.
To Kodek this man in the tux was nothing more than in instructed hit. He knew Kodek, and Kodek didn’t care to ask questions, which was why the Morimoto Corporation loved hm It was also why he was able to be sop easily manipulated by Larry the Brain, who was really the dangerous one here. At least Bear had managed to get here now, hopefully to straighten things out. But there were certainly limits to the amount Bear could get involved at this point in time. So he stayed in the closet, and waited.
As soon as Kodek entered the room, his eyes darted over to the closet door. Or rather, the crack in the closet door.
Clever bastard. If Bear wasn’t careful he’d be the one fucking everything up here. A bead of sweat broke out on his brow, He let it drip down the side of his face without moving.
The man in the tux, known as Dr. M, or Dr. Mindbender – his codename, covering his classified real name, which Bear happened to know was Dr. Fraurenspeigel, who also happened to be the father of one Dr. Larry “The Brain Fraurenspeigel, who was currently employed by The Corporation. In fact, the only thing Bear didn’t know was if The Corporation had instructed this hit, or if it had been that megalomaniac son of the Doctor’s.
The Bear of Berlin reflected on the possibility that perhaps he knew far too much and he might be next on The Corporation’s hit list. Or if not next, not to bloody far down, either. He made a mental note to get his ass back to Germany before Oktoberfest.
It was over in the snap of the fingers: Fraurenspeigel Sr. stood up, reached into his pocket, presumable to remove his holstered gun to defend himself – and Kodek already had the martini glass in his had, he the botto snapped off and the jagged stem stabbed up through Mindbender’s eyeball. The glass stabbed him in the brain and he died after about two seconds of twitching. And that was it, all done, nice and quiet. Blood dribbled out of Mindbender’s nostril and Kodek even managed to get his hand under the drip, palm-up, catching the blood before it even his the desk blotter. They he wrapped his arms around Mindbender and hoisted him over his shoulder like he was removing a stale carpet from the room. Bear followed him outside…
Outside of Mindbender’s mansion, Bear watched as Kodek rolled the corpse into the trunk of his car and slammed the lid shut, the martini glass stem still sticking out from his brain. Intending to follow Kodek, Bear leaped into his own car, only to find it wouldn’t start. He wondered if it was bad upkeep, bad luck, or something (The Brain) else. He had to run around to the back of the house where he found a lady’s bicycle complete with an old once-white basket strapped to the front handlebars. Well, beggars certainly couldn’t be choosers, not with time being of the essence, and Bear hopped on the bike, looking like a gorilla night club bouncer balancing on a girl’s two-wheeler. Which is pretty much what he was. Under other circumstances, he might have laughed at himself. Right now, he raced the bike through the back yard and came down a dirt trail that curved into the street that Kodek had pulled his car onto. He pedaled hard, and made it half a mile around the asphalt bend when he saw, to his ecstatic relief, a fucking traffic jam.
Behind him, all the way in the trunk, there was a dead guy in a tuxedo with a pocket full of poker chips and the busted stem of a martini glass protruding from his bloody fucked-up eyeball, the jagged edge of that glass-stem lodged somewhere in the soft tissue of his brain, which had started leaking out of his ears when Kodek threw and locked him in the trunk.
Everything had actually been going swimmingly until Kodek rounded the last curb and was forced to come to a dead halt behind the twenty-two cars in front of him. His heart sank into his stomach. Trapped.
Bear pedaled harder, suddenly finding his second wind, towards the line of stopped cars. To say that Kodek was surprised when Bear opened the passenger-side door to the car and hopped in would be a slight understatement.
“Who the fuck are you!?!” Kodek demanded, and Bear saw him going for his jacket, and Bear was quick, too, and he grabbed Kodek’s wrist. His grip was like and industrial vice, to Kodek’s chagrin.
“We haven’t met yet,” Bear told him.
“The man you have in the trunk of your car – we need to get him out of here.”
“What the hell do you think I’m trying to do?!”
“No, you don’t understand – we can’t bring him back to The Corporation, or to the doctor, it doesn’t matter who hired you for this hit. We need to get him out of here…”
“You mean like out of the trunk?”
“No you’ve got it. Listen, I know this may appear odd to you, but the Doctor you’ve just murdered had discovered the most significant scientific proof of immortality, and not only that, but was on the verge of harnessing it. People want this power. Now that he’s dead, he’s even more significant. We can’t let his body fall into the hands of–” Bear trailed off, he could see he was losing Kodek fast. And he need help with this, even if he couldn’t get Kodek completely on his side at this point in time. He switched tactics.
“Larry the Brain wants both you and I dead.”
That got Kodek’s attention back, if only for a short while. “And it’s because of that corpse in your trunk. Now help me get him out of there before we end up in a hole in the ground with him.”
Bear exited the car.
“What are you doing?!” Kodek cried. “We in the middle of a fucking traffic jam!”
Bear said, “You might not remember any of this right now, but trust me, in the future you’re going to remember everything.”
“What that fuck does that mean?”
But Bear was already at the back of the car now, fucking with the trunk.
It was New Years Day at 12:15 in the morning, and Somewhere Else, Johnny was under some expired mistletoe, slow-dancing and leaning in to kiss Zarana.
Kodek was at the trunk, the traffic jam hadn’t even begun to move yet. “Get in.”
Bear had already somehow popped the trunk open, break-in keys, Kodek figured, and he grabbed the edge of it and slammed it shut. To his dismay, it didn’t latch. “We should get out of here before we start fucking around in the trunk, don’t you think?” he asked. The look on Bear’s face indicated that he though it was a pretty decent idea, but wasn’t readily about to agree with it.
“No, we should-”
“We should get in the fucking car and drive into the edge of the woods, is what we should do,” Kodek said, and then realizing that it was a pretty lame plan, quickly amended: “Or go back to the house, and hid it there. Fuck, we can dig a hole if we want. We aren’t getting anywhere here.”
Bear, after a moment of stoic consideration, agreed.
Even Before Then, before Zarana had met up with Johnny, she was walking the streets. Simple as that. It was Fraurenspeigel that had approached her, paid for her time… Lured her into his car and
There was a shovel at the house so Kodek dug, thinking all the while of that scene from Goodfellas where DeNiro and Liotta had to dig up that corpse from the hit in the pub that had been owned by Jimmy Conway–
The corpse was in the hole, they were filling the hole in, in fact, but something wasn’t right. Bear kept shoveling dirt in, but Kodek stopped and listened into the night. He heard wind, but that was it.
“You’ll remember later,” Bear half-mumbled.
“Yeah, you said that before… What the hell do you mean?”
Now Bear stopped digging. He rested his hands on the top of the shovel and leaned in. “In Germany, I’ll tell you that your hit has changed from this doctor, to another doctor, named Larry The Brain. You know him.”
“Yeah,” Kodek agreed.
“He hired you for this hit.”
Kodek knew that.
“And did you know his real name is Dr. Fraur-” a snapping in the trees beyond the boarder of the back yard stole their attention and left Bear’s question hanging in the night, to be carried off by the wind and forgotten…
After a moment of listening, Kodek was ready to get back to filling in the top of the hole that was left. “We should hurry this up,” he said.
“I’ll have to leave you now. But I hope we have a chance to meet again, with our minds intact.”
“Uh-huh,” Kodek said, which was about as far as he was willing to go to humour the burly German hitman who had obviously been out in the field long enough for a few wires to snap loose form his hard-drive.
“You think I’m insane, but soon, you’ll see that-” his words were cut off when the dart hit him in the neck. He made a sort-of choking sound and dropped to his knees, and Kodek already had his handgun out. He shot into the woods where he’s first heard the tree-snapping sound, and either he missed or was too late, because he saw (before he felt) the dart sticking out of his own shoulder now, and the world went hazy and his mind got drowsy and he didn’t even know that he’d also dropped to his knees, or that The Bear was face-down in the grass, still breathing but unconscious. Kodek joined him a second later, in complete blackness…
“It’s a THRILL-ERRRRRR, thrill of/the night…” Kodek sat bolt upright, suddenly awake with his MJ tape blasting away in the tape deck.
What the fuck?
MJ tape. Deck of cards. Martini glass.
Dead guy in the trunk, dressed in a tux, poker chips in his pocket, the glass stem of a martini glass stabbing him in the brain.
Shit, how long was I out? Ten minutes? Ten seconds? Holy god damn. He stared cursing Morimoto and his games… Sixteen cars ahead, there were a group of uniformed cops searching cars. Holy fuck. Kodek really started to wonder if he’d been set up. He hit the STOP button on the Phillips retro-fitted tape deck. He needed quiet. It was about to get busy. He clicked his back teeth. Fifteen cars ahead of him now, one car closer to the cops.
He had no idea that there was no longer a corpse in the trunk of his car, that piece of his life excised from his function mind. He was going to be in for one hell of a surprise when the cops pulled him over, but luckily, he would wait to see how things played out before he started shooting the men in uniform. Lucky for all of them, on this plane of existence…
Zarana went with Brain, following him out of his car and up to the slum tenement. She presumed that someone as clean-cut as Brain likely owned the tenement, at least an apartment inside if not the whole fucking building, for liaisons such as this. She also had a brief notion of who Larry “The Brain” some-long-fucking-German-last-name was, as they both worked for The Corporation, in some ways. Sure, she might’ve only been Relations & Entertainment, their fancy way of spinning “prostitute”, but she’s gotten in with this sweet guy named Johnny who worked for them who was up-talking her to some important people (or so he told her) and was prepping her for field work. Which meant that soon, hopefully, with any luck at all (or even a sliver a truth) she’d soon start being trained as a proper field operative, with room to be promoted to an actual Company Agent in the future. She’s had a lot of one-on-one with Johnny and she–
“Sorry, the elevator’s broken,” Brain said. “We’ll have to walk up.”
“That’s fine,” Zarana told him.
“I hear you might be getting trained for the field soon,” he said, making conversation, but Zarana’s heart fluttered a little.
“”Where’d you hear that?” she asked, genuinely curious.
“Inside. In fact, some of the training might start tonight.”
This confused Zarana. “What do you mean?”
“Ah, here…” Brain led her through the third-floor stairwell door and they walked a short way down the grossly lit corridor to his apartment – 308.
He led her inside, and the first thing that hit Zarana was the smell. It was god awful, but she but her lip and tried to make it look like she didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary.
Brain took her coat, the perfect gentleman, and led her deeper inside the barely-lit apartment. There, in the living room, there was a shitty dining table set up and a dirt-covered corpse lying on it. There was some sort of black slime leaking from its eye sockets and fingers, from underneath the nails. This strings of this slime were connected down to the living room carpet alike black maple syrup that had been spilled off the edge of the crap wooden table.
Still, Zarana choked back her surprise and held it inside before it could morph into outright horror. He couldn’t keep the tears from leaking out of her now-wet eyes, though, but all is all, she was doing a pretty amazing job of remaining stoic through the whole revelation.
“Zarana,” Brain said, amiably enough (which was pretty fucking horrific in itself), “I’d like you to meet my father. He’s a scientist. He’s done some pretty amazing things.”
“Um… What exactly is it you want me do do here?”
“Don’t worry, you’ll be paid. What we need to do,” Brain explained, “Is take his knowledge and transfer it to someone else. Namely, you, for the time being.”
“And how are we going to do that? Eat his fucking brains?” She was starting to lose her calm, finally. She tried desperately to keep it together, for The Company, for Johnny, for Her Future…
“Not exactly,” Brain tried to re-assure her, trying to keep her in check himself. “But it does have to be something… intimately physical. It’s the only way the transfer will work.”
Now the horror was showing plainly on her face.
“Don’t worry,” Brain reassured her, “Like I said, you’ll be rewarded for this.”
And then Zarana barfed on the carpet.
12:00 and thirty-four seconds on New Year’s Day, and as The Bear of Berlin saw Kodek’s gun aiming up at his head, rising through the air between them like some slow-motion action set-piece in a seventies Walter Hill flick, he knew exactly what had just happened: He’d been set up. Set up by The Brain for trying to re-assign a hit on him when Bear and Kodek had met together in Germany for the first/second time. That was back during Oktoberfest… Before Kodek even knew that he’d already murdered Dr. Fraurenspeigel, Sr. (a.k.a. Dr. Mindbender) and Brain had sent him on some sort of wild goose chase to get him out of the way, temporarily. Of course, Brain couldn’t have Kodek killed, he was too important, even then.
It occurred to Bear, in those all-too-brief milliseconds between Kodek pulling the trigger and the bullet burrowing into his brain, that the entire Jack of Hearts scenario had also likely been cooked up to keep Kodek at bay until Brain could properly coordinate the entire–
The Bear of Berlin’s brains splatted out the back of his head and onto the disco-lit dancefloor. Some screaming and running ensued, and it all happened so fast, before Bear had the chance to explain that somewhere in the universe, Anna’s cooch was shortly about to become the door to some serious inter-dimensional brouhaha.
Inside a shadowing hotel room in Berlin, The Bear of Berlin was talking to Kodek over a dossier containing files of one Dr. Mindbender. Even then, Bear already know Mindbender was dead as grave dirt. He needed to shift the conversation onto a more productive avenue…
“Speaking… how would you say… globally, it will be much better to reverse the orders.”
“Reverse the orders?” Kodek repeated like a parrot.
“Sorry, maybe my English isn’t correct… You’re, um, supposed to go back to the United States and kill The Brain.”
Now Kodek was listening with cocked eyebrow. “On whose orders?”
“Your orders,” Bear said with an utter lack of facetiousness. Kodek knew it too, which made him smile just a little.
“Um,” Bear cleared his throat, “Do you happen to have a… Asprin? I have a…” His hand went to his forehead, rubbing the front just above the bridge of his nose. “…Splitting headache”. He shut his eyes, winced them closed.
“I do,” Kodek said, going through his coat pocket. “Just picked them up today.”
“The back of my mind is killing me,” Bear said, and gratefully took the pills, threw four into his mouth and chewed them into a powder before swallowing his saliva.
“It’s funny,” Kodek said, “I was compelled to pick them up at the airport earlier. I don’t know why. I didn’t even have a headache.”
Bear nodded through his pain, he understood a little of the compulsion. “I’m glad you did.” Relief came quickly, and Brain was sure it wasn’t the Asprin at all. His face relaxed.
“Pretty weird, huh?” Kodek said.
“Yes. Strange,” Bear agreed.
“So, you were saying…?”