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As Bad As They Come

Fiction
Detective Wolfman

As Bad As They Come

Los Angeles, California – 1953

 

Dutch Van Zandt read the ransom note.

$50,000 or the dame gets it was the gist. The dame was Dorothy Malone, a B-movie beauty with a classy rep and no studio attachments. She was a worker, not a star. Not the kind of woman you try to ransom if you know what you’re doing. But star or not, she was hip deep in some Western at R.K.O. and the suits were apoplectic.

The kidnappers identified themselves as the Band of the Left Hand. Sounded like limp-dick commies with the blacklist blues. Contact had been made and forty-eight hours given to come up with the dough and wait for further instructions.

Amateur hour. Not that it bothered Dutch. Kidnap jobs were always a gas, and a kidnapped actress meant all bets were off.

Security Consultant. It was a fancy term for a fixer and a goon, but it suited Dutch just fine. He made a slick living bird-dogging and bull-dogging for studio brass. Fast cash from fat cats.

It was a job for a bad man, and Dutch was as bad as they come.

Life was grand.

He was parked on the street in his Roadmaster with the top down. Dorothy Malone had a nice little one-story in Brentwood. Flowers in a little garden out front. No car in the driveway. He put the note in the glove box and let himself in through the back.

The door opened into the kitchen. It was tidy with a coffee cup and saucer in the sink. The chairs were pushed in neatly under the little table and the framed photos of ma and pa back in Texas were perfectly situated.

He saw the bowls on the floor just as he heard the deep growl behind him. He turned and saw a big, beautiful, but none-too-pleased German Shepherd showing teeth.

Dutch played it low and cool. At six-foot-six and two-forty he could break the dog’s neck if he needed to but he hoped that he didn’t. The big, bad man was a soft touch when it came to animals. A holdover from his Montana boyhood. Not even the War could take that from him.

“Easy, big fella,” he said in a soft voice, slowly crouching down. The dog took a step back and gave a nasty bark. He flicked his fangs with his tongue the way dogs do when they’re two seconds from tearing out your throat.

“Don’t look at me like that.” Dutch slowly reached over to the ice box and pulled it open. Sure enough he found a fat prime rib waiting there like it was meant to be.

Thank God for Texas gals.

“I bet you’re hungry, aren’t you.” He pulled out the steak and watched the dog’s fury wither into wet-eyed longing. He held out the meat.

“Come on, buddy, I won’t hurt you.”

The dog came forward but stopped short, unsure. He gave another bark that was undercut with a whine. His paws padded nervously back and forth.

“Come on.”

Finally the dog relented. Dutch’s massive hands moved across his fur with a tenderness that didn’t suit them. The dog wolfed down the steak and lapped at Dutch’s face to show his gratitude and remorse.

“No hard feelings,” Dutch rubbed behind the dog’s ears. “Where’s your mama, huh? Where did she go?”

He filled the water bowl and opened the back door. While the dog drank his fill and ran around the yard Dutch walked the rest of the house. It was more of the same. Modest but meticulous decorations and lived-in cleanliness. Photos of family and friends in place of expensive art. A crucifix on the wall in the living room.

He recalled the bookstore scene in The Big Sleep. Bogie comes in out of the rain and there’s our girl. Brunette, bespectacled, and sharp as a fresh razor. She drops the glasses. Lets the hair down. And closes up shop to drink private-eye rye and wait out the rain with the Man, himself.

Dutch torched for her even then. He always did have a soft spot for dark-haired Irish girls.

He did a sweep of the medicine cabinet and the bedroom but found nothing out of the ordinary.

No signs of a struggle. Whoever took Dorothy Malone didn’t do it here.

The cozy house yielded no clues but it gave Dutch a feeling for who the missing woman was. Head a little in the clouds but feet firmly on the ground. A little whimsy and a lot of heart.

The dog found him again in the living room and licked his hand. Dutch topped off his food and water before he left.

 

He parked in front of the Del Monte and had to crouch to get through the door. His massive frame spooked a woman coming out. He gave her his best grin and held the door. The woman was all batting eyelashes and passed by so close it almost got biblical.

His grin took a sinister edge as he set eyes on Fred Shine at the far end of the bar. Shine was a muckraker for the Herald and knew more of L.A.’s dirty secrets than the Devil himself. Shine smiled. He looked like a possum in a bow tie.

“Hiya, Van Zandt,” the possum said. “Buy me a drink?”

“Bum me a smoke?”

“Of course. What are friends for?”

“Who’s a friend?”

Shine went theatrical, with a hand over his heart.

“You wound me, big guy.”

“Don’t worry. Something tells me you’ll make it.”

“Damn straight. I’ll never die.”

“What are you drinking?”

“Sazerac.”

“Coonass.”

“Thug.”

It went on like that for a while. The low-blow back and forth of pals-by-necessity. Loathsome to the common man, the wolf and the rodent share a small kinship. Thus was the lot for men who made their living in the wake and filth of the rich and powerful.

But what a living.

“Give me the goods on the Band of the Left Hand,” Dutch said after a hearty swig of beer. Shine took clipped drags off a Chesterfield and blew the smoke through his nostrils.

“I got nothing concrete. I just hear rumors.”

“I like rumors,” Dutch said.

“Well I hear the Band is bad news, baby. Steer clear.”

Dutch raised an eyebrow.

“I ain’t scared of Hollywood reds, Fred.”

“Oh they’re red, all right,” Shine said. “But not the way you mean.” Shine took a drink for dramatic effect, the bent little prick. “They’re devil worshipers.” Shine wiggled his eyebrows.

“No shit?” Dutch said.

“And the little birds tell me they’ve killed people. Actual human sacrifice.”

“Jesus.”

“Amen.”

“Where do I find them?”

“Beats the hell out of me,” Shine said with a shrug. Dutch had to admit, the thought of beating the hell out of Fred Shine had no small share of appeal. But the little man’s utility, and the wicked glee he derived from it amused Dutch too much.

He just stared at Shine, waiting him out. It took less than a minute.

“But I heard a rumor.”

“Take your time,” Dutch said. And the son of a bitch did. He took a sip of his sazerac and a lingering drag of the Chesterfield. Dutch was still as a statue. He didn’t tap his feet. He didn’t fidget. He didn’t even blink. It was an affect that unnerved people and Shine was no exception.

“There’s a fella by the name of Herb Becher. He runs the Vanguard Playhouse on Franklin. Ever been?”

“Can’t say that I have.”

“You leg-breakers are all the same. You got no culture.”

“Culture. That’s another word for fungus, ain’t it?”

“You’re a riot,” Shine said. “Anyway, I hear whispers that Becher is a major player in subversive circles.”

“Guys like that are a dime a dozen, Fred.” Dutch countered.

“Becher got popped last year for fooling around with underage girls. When they raided his place they found all kinds of weirdo junk.”

“Weird how?”

“Weird like witchcraft, sex magick – real occult shit.”

“Guy sounds like a pervert.”

“Pervert, pinko, probably half a swish. But he lawyered up good and beat the kiddie rap. If I were you I’d start with Becher.”

Dutch finished his drink, slipped Shine a c-note and walked back out into the light.

 

Franklin Boulevard was paradise for stakeouts. It was all little shops and restaurants, teeming with pretty pedestrians and loquacious loafers. Dutch lounged like a jungle cat in the Roadmaster.

Sleeves up.

Top down.

His big left arm bent at the elbow, propped on the car door and holding a white paper cup of hot coffee. His big right arm stretched out across the seat with a cigarette between his fingers. He was parked across the street and half a block down from the Vanguard Theater. On the seat next to him was an 8×10 of Herb Becher.

Beach bum tan with an ascot and a smile like a pauper’s graveyard. Not exactly Alan Ladd.

Dutch’s cool gaze went from the photo to the canary yellow Bel Air parked in front of the theater. The car was registered to Becher but Dutch could have sussed that out with a glance. The marquee said they were putting on some show called Woyzech in a couple weeks. He couldn’t tell if that was Kraut or Polack.

The coffee cup got lighter and the cigarette got shorter. No one came in or out of the theater. The bright blue sky turned tangerine. It was like that sometimes. Hurry up and wait.

Dutch bought some hotdogs from a fat man with a cart. Sure enough, when he was halfway through his third dog Herb Becker sashayed out of the theater in a silk shirt and too-high slacks. He had a sloppy little gang of ugly hangers on nipping at his heels. They all piled into Becher’s Bel Air.

Dutch legged it back over to his ride and fired up the engine as Becher was pulling into traffic. He wolfed down the dog and hit the gas.

Becher hooked the Bel Air around and headed east. Dutch followed him nonchalant all the way to Los Feliz. Spit-shined sidewalks and immaculate lawns gave way to starter homes with chipped paint and weeds drooping like stumble-bums over the sidewalk. The Bel Air slowed and pulled into a driveway. The house was the same canary yellow, if faded. Dutch cruised on by, turned up the nearest cross street, and parked under the looming canopy of a magnolia tree. It was nearing full dark and the buds were closing up shop for the night.

He walked back to Becher’s place and peeked in the windows. The curtains were drawn but they were thin and sheer. His nighttime eyes saw plenty.

Becher and those other geeks in the living room. One of them was slinging Satanic sermons with socialist overtones while another one set up a film projector. Becher left the room. Dutch walked around the side of the house, peeping windows.

Office. A mess of books packed into shelves that had never been dusted.

Bathroom. Toilet seat up and grunge on the shower curtain.

Bedroom. A naked woman tied to a dirty bed. A mattress soaked with blood.

Going cold. That’s what most people do when they see the signature of violence writ large. But not Dutch. He felt a warm little fire spark in his chest and course through his veins like liquid heat. A thrill and a comfort all at once – like that feeling he got as a kid from the smell of pine sap and cinnamon on Christmas morning – that’s the feeling that came over Dutch. The powerful muscles in his broad shoulders relaxed. Only his monstrous fists were clenched.

He walked around to the back of the house and found Becher standing over a brick fire pit. He threw in a mess of bloody sheets, sprayed them with lighter fluid, and lit them up.

Dutch stalked out into the night. As he drew closer to the fire and to his prey all thoughts of yesterday and tomorrow dissipated like cigarette smoke.

He was thoroughly entrenched in the electric NOW.

Breath to breath.

Heartbeat to heartbeat.

The palm of his right hand covered Becher’s mouth and nose with a perfect seal. The little man’s stifled cry tickled his hand and gave him a brief memory of catching fireflies. Dutch grabbed Becher’s arm with his left hand.

“Don’t struggle,” he cooed in Becher’s ear. “You’re mine. You struggle or scream and I’ll break you in half. Do you understand?”

Becher nodded as best he could. Dutch held him like a vice.

“I’m gonna ask you some questions, Herb. And I want you to answer just as calm and quietly as I ask them. If you fuck with me or I think you’re lying I’ll hold your face in that fire until your eyes melt.”

Becher whimpered.

“Don’t cry,” Dutch warned. “It makes me mad.” He looked into the fire and saw the sheets cooking.

“Is that Dorothy Malone’s blood?” He relaxed his palm just a tad. Becher shook his head.

“No,” he whispered.

“Whose blood is it?”

“No one’s.”

Dutch pulled Becher’s arm up behind his back and heard the man’s shoulder dislocate. He screamed into Dutch’s palm.

“You’ve got a lot of joints, Herb, and I’ve got all night. Think before you speak. Whose blood is it?” He lifted his palm. It was wet with tears and snot.

“Just a girl,” Becher whispered frantically. “I don’t…I think her name was Joanne or Josie, something like that.”

“She the girl tied to bed back there?”

“Yes.” He was blubbering now.

“I know you’re with the Band of the Left Hand, Herb. I know you’ve got Dorothy Malone stashed somewhere. She alive?”

“Yes!” he moaned.

“Where is she?”

“1206 Kings Way! Just south of Laurel Canyon.”

“Who else is there?”

“Lots of us. And the Magus.”

“The Magus?”

“He’s in charge.”

These people, Dutch thought. “So this was all his bright idea?”

“NO!” Becher whisper-whimpered. “The dead girl. She and some of the others acted on their own. They named the Band. The Magus made examples of them.”

“And he threw you a bone, huh?” Dutch felt Becher try to straighten up and grasp for some last minute dignity.

“The Magus rewards the faithful,” Becher said. “He is powerful. He’ll make you beg for mer-”

Dutch broke Becher’s neck. It always surprised him how easy it was. He pushed the dead man over into the fire pit.

He pulled his .38. It looked like a toy in his massive mitt but it would do the job.

He went in through the back door and followed the sound of the sermon. He stepped into the living room and caught the scene quick. The preacher was four-eyed and bow-tied but otherwise passed for normal. His congregation was another matter. A fella built like a scarecrow with a haircut straight out of the Middle Ages sat on a ratty sofa next to a bookish broad with a uni-brow. A third dunce sat on the floor looking up at the talker like a fat Harpo Marx.

The projector was running a porno in tandem with the sermon. A free-for-all of flesh. Guys and girls writhing in a sea of skin, prostrating and supplicating to a tall man who wore the head of a black goat like a mask.

The Magus.

The malignant moviegoers looked at Dutch all glassy-eyed and confused. There was a moment of silence like you get just before lightning strikes. Dutch popped the three ghouls with the .38. Two head-shots that were almost a hat-trick but the fat boy tried to get up and the bullet caught him in the throat. He made this wheezing sound while he drowned on the dirty rug.

The preacher eyeballed Dutch. He was somewhere in that soupy void between shock and terror.

“You really worship the Devil?” Dutch asked.

“Yes,” the preacher blubbered.

For some reason Dutch thought that was the funniest damn thing. But the joke went sour when he saw the girls in the skin flick making meat of themselves for the ravenous ram.

That sick bastard had Dorothy Malone.

Dutch shot the little red preacher twice in the face. On his way out the door he took out his lighter and lit the curtains on fire.

The front room was fully ablaze when he drove past in the Roadmaster. He could already hear sirens in the distance. With the top down and the wind up he caught a whiff of Becher cooking in the fire pit and the smell made him miss the War.

 

1206 Kings Way was a fortress. One of the Frank Lloyd Wright jobs peppered throughout the hills, it loomed like an Aztec monument carved into the mountain path. Dutch reloaded his .38, grabbed a 12-gauge out of the trunk, and hoofed it up the dark and quiet street toward the mansion. He hugged the treeline all the way to the gate and followed the wall of hand-carved stone to the lowest point in the terrain. He set the shotgun against the wall and pulled himself up. From there he clocked the cars in the massive horseshoe driveway.

It was a full house. He hopped back down, grabbed the shotgun, and kept moving to the far corner of the wall.

He went over. His instincts took control. As his body moved – climbing, rolling, ducking – his mind went back to ‘43.

Romania.

His squad had to seize a German communications hub inside an old castle in the village of Bran. It was all in the name of safeguarding an air raid on German fuel reserves. Operation Tidal Wave. All that time in the thick of it, Dutch had never been scared. He wasn’t afraid of any man on earth, or even of dying. But in that village, in that castle, Dutch could feel something in the air, the soil, the stones of the castle walls. It was something old that reached all the way back to the deepest primordial pool.

Something evil.

Something wrong.

Dutch was one of twelve men that went into that castle and one of three that came back out. That was the only time he’d ever felt that old and evil feeling – until now.

The house had three floors. Dorothy would be on the third. The highest point.

He climbed to the second level. Most people didn’t lock their doors or windows on the second level, maybe devil worshipers didn’t either. He found a plate glass window that was ready and willing. He let himself in. He made his way through the twisting corridors, past the expensive art and Old World trophies on the walls. There were animal pelts, horns, and heads – spears and axes made of wood and stone and iron.

And the HEAT. The mansion was sweltering.

Dutch could hear commotion coming from the first floor. He could feel the density of the crowd beneath him. He saw stairs leading to the third floor but caught the glimmer of warm light from below. As he made it to the end of the hallway he peeked past the corner and down into the sprawling living room and saw the source of the deep hum throughout the house.

Chanting. Or rather, a hymn in some language that wasn’t English. Two lines of sycophantic supplicants on either side of the living room, wearing dark, hooded robes and chanting dark verses.

In the middle of the floor was a man and a woman rutting in sweaty savagery. And seated in a large chair in front of a roaring fire in the ornate hearth was the Magus; tall and lean, and naked but for the black goat head he wore over his own. The light of the fire and the shadows of the moving bodies must have been playing tricks on Dutch’s eyes because the Magus’s limbs looked abnormally long.

The voices grew louder in tandem as the couple on the floor approached their ecstatic finish. And as they reached climax the devoted onlookers all drew knives and fell on them in a stabbing storm.

Dutch dashed up the stairs while they were distracted. He moved with exceptional speed and silence for a man his size. He opened each door in the hallway, searching for the woman.

Nothing.

Nothing.

Jackpot.

She was in a small bedroom, taped to a chair in nothing but her slip with a black cloth bag over her head.  He walked over to her and put his hand where her mouth would be, but much more gently than he had with Becher.

“I’m not going to hurt you.” he whispered. “I’m here to get you out. Do what I say and you’ll be just fine.”

She nodded. Dutch took the bag off her head. The bastards had gagged her. He pulled a switchblade from his jacket and cut the tape that held her arms. She pulled the gag from her mouth.

“Are you a cop?” she asked.

“I used to be.”

“If you kill these twerps it can be our little secret.”

Dutch thought that was funny. She got up from the chair but her legs wobbled and she fell to the ground.

“Damn pins and needles,” she said.

“Here,” Dutch said. He grabbed one of her stunned legs and began rubbing feeling back into it. It was a nice leg. She rubbed the other. Dutch looked into her eyes. She seemed steady enough. He figured she hadn’t seen anything like the horror show downstairs. He was relieved at the thought.

His hands worked up to her knee and she gave them a little smack.

“Watch it, buster.” She said. Dutch grinned.

“How did they ever take you alive?”

The bedroom door opened and a skinny little shit with a bandage on his ear stepped into the room. Dutch was on him in a flash and gave him the neck treatment, but this time it was messy. The guy’s head did a full one-eighty and the skin split open from his ear to his Adam’s apple. Blood sprayed the walls. Dutch lowered him to the floor and went back to Dorothy.

She had some feeling in her legs now, all right.

Dutch opened the window. The top of the second floor formed a rampart right outside. He turned to Dorothy.

“You’re getting out of here. It’s easy enough to climb down if you follow the edge of the house. It will take you all the way to the street.” He handed her his car keys. “My Buick is at the end of the road. Take it and get out of here.”

“What about you?” she asked.

“I’ll find my way.”

He helped her out the window. She turned around. Her head just above the sill. She was one hell of a vision in the moonlight.

“Wait,” she said. “I don’t even know your name.”

Dutch smirked. He leaned his face out the window.

“It’s Dwight,” he said. “But everybody calls me Dutch.”

Dorothy stood up on her tiptoes, kissed his cheek, and hit him with a look that would have made a lesser man swoon.

“Go get ‘em, Dutch.” She turned and made her way across the crenelated rooftop. He should have followed her out and been done with it but he knew that he couldn’t. Couldn’t let this lie. He knew he was a bad man – as bad as they come. But he wasn’t like the Magus or his cronies.

He wasn’t evil.

And even though he was sure that when he died he’d go to the same Hell as they would, that didn’t mean they got to live in the same world as he did.

Dutch grabbed the 12-gauge and opened the door.

When he stepped out of the room they were waiting for him at the end of the hallway.

They screamed in unison and rushed him. He couldn’t tell how many. Just a black mass of gaping maws and sharp knives in the dark. He fired into them.

BAM! One of them took it right in the chest and flew back into the mob.

BAM! Another one lurched forward and caught it in the head. Their skull exploded into the eyes of the one behind them.

BAM! Two for one. But they kept coming.

BAM! A woman shrieked as half her face came off. She ate the floor as the others trampled her.

BAM! The last one spun like a top and Dutch lifted the shotgun just as the next man brought down his blade with an overhand stab. Dutch deflected it and hit them so hard with the butt of the 12-guage that he pinned his head to the wall and felt his skull crack like a hard-boiled egg. He kicked the next apostle so hard in the midsection they let out a wheezing sound like a wounded mule. As they pitched forward he swung the shotgun like a club into the top of their head and shut them up forever.

But the work was not done. Still more came for him. He took a slash to the shoulder as he stiff-armed one of them. He pulled his revolver with the other hand and shot the knifeman point blank in the face. They drove him back. Ferocious as he was they were not afraid of him. They were a far cry from Becher and his lackeys. He would have to kill them all.

Dutch smiled.

He spent his last five shots in two more screamers but got stabbed in his gun-hand. He dropped the .38 and crouched down just in time to dig his shoulder into the middle of a charging congregant and throw him over his back. The assailant rolled onto his stomach to push himself up but Dutch pinned him to the floor with a foot in the base of his back. With his foot planted, Dutch reached down, grabbed the man’s face with both hands, and yanked upward. There was a crack like thunder.

Dutch stood up straight, taking deep breaths of the hot, blood-charged air. His powerful muscles dripped sweat and blood. The dead man at his feet was the last of the black-robed fanatics.

Deep laughter came from the far end of the hall.

Deeper than the grave.

Deeper than Hell.

The Magus stood at the edge of the stairs, laughing at his dead followers. Laughing at Dutch. He was a towering black shape in the darkness, wreathed by the flickering light of the fire below.

“Come and get it,” Dutch said.

The Magus stopped laughing and said something foreign that Dutch couldn’t make out. The strange, vile man let out a low growl and charged forward.

With so many bodies in the way Dutch was counting on him to lose his footing and pitch forward with the weight of the goat head but the crafty bastard never missed a step. He just came on faster and faster. As he closed the distance Dutch could see just how big and formidable the madman was. He was poised to ram Dutch with the goat horns, and with so little room to maneuver Dutch had to think fast. He picked up one of the discarded knives off the floor and threw it straight ahead. He didn’t dare to hope that it would stick but the Magus moved his head just enough that when they collided Dutch only took a glancing blow from the horns.

They went down. They hit the floor so damn hard they could barely hold onto each other. There was no time for guile and no room for finesse. They choked and shoved and stiff-armed as they scrambled to get to their feet. The Magus was all long, ropy muscle – strong and quick.

They traded blows, crashing into the hallway walls, shattering decorations and scattering drywall as they pummeled each other.

Dutch dealt damage that would have devastated another man. But the monstrous Magus gave as good as he got.

Dutch slugged him the short ribs but he reached out, fast as a snake, grabbed Dutch’s face and smashed his head into the wall. Dutch stumbled and swung a right hook that missed the mark. The Magus smacked him in the jaw with a back fist that took him off his feet. Dutch crashed into the bodies on the floor. The Magus stalked toward him. Dutch’s head swam. The freak must have really rang his bell because he could have sworn he saw the goat eyes blink.

He knew he was in trouble. He reached under the mess of bodies, searching desperately with his hands. The Magus loomed over him. He grabbed Dutch by the hair and lifted him with one hand, and reared back to strike with the other. Just before he could bring down his fist and put Dutch’s lights out for good, Dutch’s hand found a knife and he shoved the blade with all his strength in between the Magus’s legs.

The scream was a howl from Hell.

Dutch had never heard a sound so awful in all his life. He stumbled to his feet and crashed into the wall, knocking one of the trophy weapons loose. It was a primitive ax from the old, bad world. Dutch hefted it up and while the Magus lurched over, yowling and clutching at his gushing wound.

Dutch swung the old weapon hard and true and took off the wailing goat head in one clean swipe. A geyser of thick blood poured forth. It looked black in the dim light.

The goat head lay among the dark robes of the dead. Its lifeless black eyes gazed up at Dutch. He gazed back and wondered what Hell was like for devil worshipers.

 

Dorothy Malone was parked in front of the gate with the motor running.

“Need a lift?”

Dutch walked to the driver’s side.

“Allow me,” he said. Dorothy slid over the smooth bench seat.

“You’re hurt,” she said.

And he was.

“I’ve been hurt worse,” he said.

And he had.

He got in and took them away from the wicked dead and into the living night.

It was warm enough to leave the top down. Dutch cruised south, glancing at Dorothy. She gazed out at the hills, the wind tossing her hair. It was a damn fine head of hair. Dutch thought he wouldn’t mind tossing it, himself. They drove in silence for a while, letting the breeze blow off the sheen of the nightmare palace. He made it all the way to Sunset before she spoke up.

“Where are you taking me?” she asked.

“Home.”

“I don’t want to go home.” Dutch stopped at a traffic light. He turned and saw her staring at him.

“Where do you want to go?”

“Surprise me.”

The light turned and Dutch drove ahead. Twenty minutes later they were parked at the end of a private road that stretched to the beach. Dutch had crippled a blackmailer for a swish crooner the year before so now he got to enjoy the private beach. They sat in the car, looking out at the dark tide rolling in.

“Are you cold?” Dutch asked. She shook her head.

“It’s strange but I don’t feel one way or another,” she said. “Like I can’t feel anything.” Dutch took off his blazer. It was a tattered wreck but it would do. He leaned over and gently wrapped it around her.

“Better put this on just in case.” The jacket nearly swallowed her up. On the screen she seemed so big and brassy but here and now she was only a little thing. He could feel her starting to shake.

“Tell me something,” she said.

“What?”

“Anything. Just talk to me for a bit. Keep me from floating away.” Dutch tried to think of something.

“I fed your dog,” he said. “He’s okay.”

“Did he bite you?” she asked. “He doesn’t like strange men.”

“He thought about it but we’re thick as thieves now. I didn’t hurt him.”

“I didn’t think you did.”

She was rubbing her arms with trembling hands.

“My God,” she said. “I don’t know whether to jump or lie down.”

“It’ll pass,” Dutch told her. “Think of it like a ride at the fair and just hold on.”

“What’s it like to kill somebody?” She just blurted it out. No one had ever asked him that outright. And even though he’d never ruminated on it he knew just what to say to the uninitiated.

“You ever get a knot in a piece of jewelry? Like in a little gold chain?”

“Sometimes.”

“You know that feeling when you work your way into the bastard and it finally comes undone?”

“Mm hm.”

“It’s like that. To me, anyway.”

She made a quiet sound then. It was an odd sound. Not a gasp or a giggle but some kind of something.

“Could you put your arm around me, please?” she asked.

“All right.”

She slid over and leaned into him hard as he wrapped his right arm around her.

“I’m not some roundheel or anything,” she said.

“I didn’t think you were.”

“I’ve always gone my own way and I’ve never lived off anyone’s good will. But they took me, you understand? And thank God for you and that things didn’t go as far as they could have. I’m grateful. But I need to lean on someone for just a minute. I need to feel you here and to smell the blood and the fire on you and know that I’m alive.”

He pulled her tight and rubbed some of her hair in his fingers.

He knew he was a bad man – as bad as they come. But now, more than ever in his life, he wanted to be good.

“I’m all yours,” he said.

Dutch looked out at the rolling, liquid black of the Pacific. The expanse of it filled his vision and would have pulled him away but for the anchor that was the woman clinging to him in all that dark infinity. Her heart beat like an engine and her shaking body settled and warmed up in his embrace. He could feel every inch of where her body touched his own. Down to the atom.

And her smell.

Woman.

There was no dressing it up.

It was three minutes or three hours before she touched his chest, Dutch wasn’t sure. He looked down at her looking up at him and when her lips met his it was fire all over again.

The night went away.

There was no yesterday.

No tomorrow.

The electric NOW between the two of them spread out and ate the whole damn world.

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Man’s World in Print

MAN’S WORLD is now available, for the very first time, as a high-quality printed magazine. Across 200 glorious pages, you’ll find everything that made the digital magazine the sensation that it was – the best essays, the most brilliant new fiction, interviews, art, food, sex, fitness – and so much more.

Man’s World in Print

MAN’S WORLD is now available, for the very first time, as a high-quality printed magazine. Across 200 glorious pages, you’ll find everything that made the digital magazine the sensation that it was – the best essays, the most brilliant new fiction, interviews, art, food, sex, fitness – and so much more.

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Man’s World?

Here at Man’s World, we’re always looking for new contributors to dazzle, inform and amuse our readership, which now stands in the hundreds of thousands.

If you have an idea for an article, of any kind, or even a new section or regular feature, don’t hesitate to get in contact via the form below.

Generally, the word limit for articles is 3,000; although we will accept longer and (much) shorter articles where warranted. Take a look at the sections in this issue for guidance and inspiration.

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