The city of Chicago was under assault by an enormous hostile army. It flooded the streets and laid siege to the glittering skyscrapers as its inhabitants formed battle lines along the sidewalks, bracing their powerful shields.
Jude liked the rain. It didn't usually bother him, and today was no different. Regardless, a certain pit had been forming in his stomach for the past hour, and as the time marched closer to the one they had agreed on, it began to grow into a gaping maw.
As he sat in the corner diner, he drank his tea, awaiting the body that he needed.
He watched the door. Families, the elderly, loners - none of them fit the bill he had been given. By 4:00 he had become concerned that the whole thing was a steel trap, and considered bolting with his suitcase.
But at that moment, a figure walked through the door.
As he pressed impetuously toward his table, Jude was both struck and repelled by the man's features. Could it really be him? He was short, maybe five feet tall, and a beard was beginning to form on his wrinkling face. His greasy brown hair, combed long, was shot with unhealthy streaks of gray - and with a shock, Jude realized that he couldn't be older than 35. His green windbreaker was drenched and he slid into his seat with a detectable edge.
"Are you…" The man waved away his attempt at introductions.
"Names are dangerous," he muttered. "Yours, and mine. Just call me Sullivan."
"Sullivan. Right then." He took the suitcase and began to unfasten its straps. "You said in your message the case would be pro bono."
He took out the photographs, and began checking them over. "Is that usual in your line of work?"
"No. What are those?"
Jude handed him the stack, which he began to look through. "Those are the guys. It's been a month since the attacks."
He paused, unsure if he was being heard. "I'm listening," he said, deeply engrossed in the surveillance footage.
He continued, "Well, essentially, they're Nazis. Collection of black hats and wannabe wizards that started cramping our style about a half-year ago, rising out of the primordial Chans for a stunt we pulled in Milwaukee. First it was just vile garbage - hate crimes, public humiliation, death threats. Typical alt-right crap. But then things started escalating. You remember the Briarmere massacre?"
"The Muslims? I heard about it."
"That was them. And after we started fortifying the enclaves to keep it from happening again - I guess they saw us as a threat."
Sullivan sighed, running a hand through his hair. "Which brings us to the present, I presume."
A moment of silence passed between them as he finished thumbing through the photographs. Then he set them down and looked Jude straight in the eye.
"Murder isn't a loose business."
"I know, and it's a corruption of everything we've worked for, but…" Jude spread his hands in helplessness. "This is an act of war. Many more are going to die if someone doesn't do something, and soon."
He shook his head. "I'm not talking about that. They're animals; I don't condemn your bloodlust. It's just - death will follow you. We're not leaving a paper trail, it'd be a clean spree, and I'm heading out of the country soon, but there will be an investigation. Most of these people probably have families, some of whom will hold funerals, more among them who will start witch hunts. Are you willing to take that heat?"
"I don't think we have any other option."
He pursed his lips. "Then it's done."
Jude felt his body awash in relief, despite himself. "I don't know how to thank you."
"It's murder. Don't."
"Why do you have to leave so soon? You could meet the team. They were pretty taken with you last night."
"I got made a few weeks back. Besides, this city is… poisonous, for me, now. I can't think. Too much going on."
"Whatever the case - we're in your debt."
Sullivan handed Jude his photographs, and extracted himself from the booth. He wished him a good night, and walked out to the rain in silence.
Once more, unto the breach. He supposed it was fitting. Then he didn't; after all, those officers paid for the chance to destroy their fellow men.
He considered the facts as droplets pitter-pattered against his windshield. It'd been a week since his meeting with Bluntfiend. He had done some snooping, and it turned out that the kids were in town for a sit-down with some foreign associates. That made some things easy, and some more things hard. The spooks he didn't recognize, but they posed an intrinsic problem, regardless of their allegiance.
They were staying downtown in a suite at the Waldorf. His flight left in the morning; he'd have to hit them tonight. His kit was stashed in the trunk, but he'd drop back at Rostov's apartment for some specialty items.
The car radio read 5:34. His time was running out.
"Honestly, what do you think Herr Friedrich sees in them?" The agent grumbled in German to his partner. They walked into a golden, comfortable looking lobby, complete with couches, desk lamps, and a water feature. "The murder of some submenschen - such wanton destruction is a dime a dozen, these days."
His companion nodded assent, a thick trenchcoat muffling his voice. The receptionist had them cleared with the Americans, and they strolled over to the elevators. The agent pushed the ↑ button, and looked up at the clock: 10:28.
"It's a wonder they even managed to get his attention," he went on. "I can't remember the last time he used an office computer. It's like we're completely analog, now."
The doors opened, and they stepped inside.
The agent looked over his partner in curiosity. "Hans, you've been awfully quiet this evening. Are you troubled? If you are upset about Katharine leaving you, be content; at least you met a woman. Me, I haven't interacted with the opposite gender since the war. All those surgeries - it takes quite a toll, you know. Heh, you know, one time I-"
The doors closed, and the agent's partner smashed into his solar plexus with an elbow shot. As he doubled over in pain, he took hold of the man's neck and jerked it out of its socket. The man from OBSKURA collapsed, motionless.
The suite was decked out with an immense number of amenities. The twelve young men waited patiently for their distinguished guests to arrive on the circle of couches - all except for one.
"George, will you sit the fuck down?" Their leader, a blonde man in a suit, demanded.
George, a younger boy in a black jacket, paced around the accommodations, ignoring the sympathetic looks he was receiving. "I just don't feel good about this, man."
"It took months of work and it paid off. Besides, we're clean. If they don't seem legit, Sam will give them the test, and if we're still not satisfied, we'll send them out."
"Not that. Well, I mean - yeah, kind of that, but even if they're for real, they're Nazis, man!"
The leader put massaged the bridge of his nose. "We've been over this George: so are we."
"But these guys were really hardcore, man! They're not like the boys in grey - none of them spoke German."
"It's a different time, George. They've been expanding. And they assured us the negotiators would be less offensive, remember? Just sit the fuck down, and have a drink. We're making good tonight."
George crossed his arms, and went to sit down in a cushy armchair. Then, the doorbell rang.
The group exchanged nervous looks with one another.
The leader sighed, exasperated. "You're all useless. Fine, I'll get it."
He walked over the door, peeking through the eye-hole. Satisfied with the heavily armored figure he saw, he opened it up.
"Welcome to our-" A sudden spurt of blood erupted from his abdomen. The silenced pistol raised to level with his head, and fired.
He grabbed the corpse as it fell, using it as a shield. Curses were being shouted all over the room, and gunfire started peppering the boy's body.
He cleared the suite methodically - a Mozambique here, a kneecap there. He slowly pressed inward, keeping the cadaver moving as his cover.
Somebody broke out an assault rifle, and soon the boy's expensive party-wear was being shredded. He dropped it and dove behind a couch's arm for cover.
"You motherfucker!" He heard shouting. "You pasty, contemptuous, illegitimate bi-"
The assault rifle's owner ate a bullet, blowing a bloody stain onto the wall behind him, and it was over.
Jude received a post-card in the mail two weeks after the Chicago Sun-Times had reported the "GRISLY ANTIFA MURDERS AT WALDORF ASTORIA." A picture of Big Ben, marked with no return address, came to his door with a small message scrawled in ink.
APPRECIATE THE LITTLE PETITION YOU PUT UP
IT IS AN HONOR TO KNOW THAT
ONE OR TWO PEOPLE CONSIDER ME
THE LONELY CROOK
'OLD-FASHIONED BULL WRANGLER'
JUST WANTED TO LET YOU KNOW
IF YOU EVER FIND YOURSELF
AWAY FROM THE STARS AND STRIPES
IT WAS A PLEASURE TO MAKE MY LAST JOB THERE
AND CONTRIBUTE TO
'THE GREATEST AMERICAN TRADITION'
He cracked a smile for the first time in weeks.