Scar’s halfway down the narrow grimy alley lined with dumpsters and gusting steam when he spots it. The wall’s covered in faded yellow stains and peeling wallpaper, but the smeared bloody handprint looks fresh. Still dripping. Scar breathes out and slinks onward, following the trail of blood spatter towards the lamplit junction. A growing murmur of hoarse voices ahead, muffled through respirators. Burbling radio chatter. The whirring click of a camera shutter. The telltale hiss of breather filters pumping overtime to dispel the poisonous fumes lurking within the lower Lanes.
The topsiders have it easy. Piltover’s far too clean, too perfect, too sterile. A vaulted city of gold and marble stretching to the clouds, while all its factory runoff leached down into Zaun’s depths, choking the water and poisoning the air. All its polished edges scrubbed and bleached like a morgue is scoured clean, all its death and decay hidden behind barred doors or buried deep beneath the pavement, shrouded from public view where all the soft-spined Piltie lords and ladies can’t see or smell the rot. Fucking hypocrites. Scar forces down the inner beast growling at him to leave now, steer clear …
The crime scene is swarming with cops. Four helmeted enforcers stand over a mangled corpse while a Forensics Investigator in a white bodysuit circles around, taking snapshots with a handheld camera. Two more trios of uniformed enforcers guard the other alleyways, faceless under their goggles and visor grills as they seal off the crime scene. Piltover’s sweeper squad for homicides. Far too late, as usual. Scar squares his shoulders and slinks out of the shadows.
The closest enforcer stumbles back, wide-eyed. ‘Holy hell, it’s him! The Hammer of Zaun!’
‘Shit,’ his female partner mutters, hand darting to her underarm holster. It drops just as quickly. ‘Someday we’re gonna put a fuckin’ bell on you, pal.’
The third enforcer blocks Scar’s way, fingers idly drumming the nightstick on his belt. ‘Whoa there, freak. The hell’re you doin’ here?’
‘Lay off, Kenzie!’ The female enforcer smacks his arm. ‘Sarge vouched for him, so that’s fine by me.’
He folds his arms, looking mutinous. ‘You kiddin’ me, Daniels? You’re gonna let him in here?’
‘Kenzie.’ Her voice hardens. ‘Sarge’s orders. Let him through.’ A woman who’d stubbornly clawed her way up through a man’s world into the blue boys’ club, with a sharp tongue and shrewd brown eyes that warn: Mess with me and I’ll rip your lungs out.
A long moment, then Kenzie sighs and steps aside with a muttered ‘Goddamn freak.’
The woman’s gaze slides over the hooked claws of Scar’s left-hand gauntlet and the rictus snarl of his canine mask, its bared metal jaws frozen in an eternally ravenous grimace. Her eyes are warm but steely. Coldly wary but not hostile. Yet. ‘Jeez, you must really like that helmet, huh. Anyone ever say you’ve got issues?’
‘Every damn time I see him, Daniels,’ a voice rings out of the gloom, fondly exasperated and familiar.
A fourth bareheaded officer steps into the lamplight, smirking. Scar blinks — yes, that’s definitely Sergeant Cole, the same grizzled enforcer who tells Scar he’s “got issues, man” every time they glimpse each other on Cole’s rare Sumpside patrols. It’s a little grating, but Scar doesn’t care. Cole’s a good cop; a little snarky and world-weary, but still a decent enforcer. Doesn’t drown his sorrows in a bottle, doesn’t throw his weight around or browbeat Zaun’s shopkeepers for easy protection money. Puts him clear head and shoulders above any of Sheriff Marcus’s gas-masked leg breakers in Piltover PD’s Armed Response Squads, that’s for sure.
The white-suited investigator gulps, eyes flitting between them. ‘Sir, that’s —’
Cole holds up a hand. ‘That’s Prowler, a concerned Zaunite civilian.’
‘But Sarge, how d’you know?’ The first enforcer scoffs. ‘He’s the Hamm —’
‘No, Jessop.’ Cole rounds on his subordinate, who wilts under his ferocious glare. ‘If this man here were ID’d as a certain dangerous masked vigilante, then I’d have to follow a very specific BOLO from Sheriff Marcus and restrain him using whatever force necessary.’ He turns back to Scar, his gaze cool and appraising. ‘So this is a thing we do. To cops in the Lanes, he’s Prowler. Just a helpful citizen with his ear deep in the Undercity. We clear on that, boys?’
Kenzie backs away, fuming. ‘But that freak —’
‘Deputy,’ Cole’s growl is razor steel. ‘Call him a freak one more time and I’ll tear that badge off your tunic and boot your fat arse back up Topside for bridge traffic duty. Understood?’
The enforcer stiffens to attention. ‘Yeah, Sar … I mean, yessir!’
‘Good lad.’ Cole reaches out to clasp forearms with Scar. ‘Evenin’, mate. You’re a sight for sore eyes.’
Scar nods before crouching beside the body. ‘What’ve we got, Cole?’
Cole sighs and scrubs a hand through his sandy blond hair. His face is haggard and worn under the sickly acid-green streetlamp, worry lines etched deep like he’s suddenly aged a decade. ‘Found ourselves a slasher. Again.’
The corpse is shrouded in a hooded oilskin coat, a common favourite of longshoremen. Scar’s gloved fingers brush over the carcass, peeling back blood-sodden rags. ‘Nah, this ain’t that. Slashers are bad enough. Opportunistic hunters preying on random passersby in their favourite killzone.’ He traces a muscled forearm. ‘This one’s different. Victim’s heavyset. No defensive wounds either. Whoever knifed him, he never saw it coming.’
Cole hunkers down beside him. ‘We found another corpse down at the harbour. Both of ’em strong men, too. Dockhands. Both shanked five, six times. Punctured lungs. Left to bleed out. Cuts ain’t a surgeon’s work, that’s for sure. This guy’s vicious.’
Scar peers up the narrow alley, then at the bulging pile of garbage bags heaped against the corner. ‘Perfect choke point. He ambushes them. Dockworkers, you said?’
‘Sure.’ Daniels steps forward, her eyes tinged with grudging respect. ‘We’ll cross-reference the photos with recent crew manifests, see whose vessel crops up short-staffed.’ She turns as the forensic guy straightens up, printing out a roll of negatives from his camera feed. ‘All done? Fingerprints too? Cool.’ Daniels unclips a brass-capped pneuma tube from her belt, tucks the printout inside and heads over to the tangled maze of conduit funnels climbing the wall. With a hiss of compressed air, the sealed capsule is sucked up the pipe.
‘We’ll have the results back in half an hour, tops.’ She flashes him a rueful grin; the bristling tension in her shoulders has completely ebbed away. ‘Gotta say, I’m chuffed to finally meet you. Y’know, in the flesh.’ She nods over at Kenzie and Jessop. ‘You’d be amazed how many weird rumours get slung around by these dipshit scaredy-cats.’
Scar watches the deputies huddle in a corner, heads together and whispering as they dart furtive glances his way. With a grimace he remembers all those times he’d managed to strike quivering terror into lowlife scumbags just by turning up and feigning menace from an overhead perch.
‘I really wouldn’t,’ he deadpans.
Daniels huffs a laugh and swats his shoulder. ‘Good thing you’re on our side. Remind me again: what d’you do, exactly?’
‘… Beat on bad guys who deserve it. Rob gangsters who can afford losin’ their chump change.’ He cracks his knuckles. ‘See you down at the docks —’
‘What’s all this?’
A heavyset bearded man in uniform slips through the police cordon. A six-pointed chromium cogwheel badge glints on his chestplate as he approaches, glaring at Scar. ‘The hell’s that trencher trash doin’ here?’
Scar’s hackles rise. Another stuck-up Piltie prick. Terrific. Here we go …
© 2022 | Tom Burton