Red Stalker

by AnneMarie Donahue


A.M. Donahue

1 " Seduction

His fingers ran methodically over the keyboard with a rhythm of the jungle drums in the documentary he had seen on YouTube two nights ago. He lived for the night and for the net. During the day, he was just another person. He had to work, to bend to the yoke of man and machine. But the night, the glorious and disastrous night, set him free. In that freedom he became the fierce hunter. He was hungry, starving, for revenge, the only thing that he ate, the only thing that could satiate him.

His monitor glowed in the night and his tapping never ceased as he searched endlessly for the one perfect villain to bring down. He hit chat rooms, and websites. He hunted long into the night, never sleeping, never tiring, he was on a mission. This mission was his to carry alone.

The glow revealed a bedroom not unlike the average teenaged boys, he was no boy. Computer equipment scattered the room and floors. Books on programming lined the overcrowded bookshelves, and gathered in rude piles on the floor without pattern or reason. Open cans of soda scattered desk and rattled in different tones with his typing. His single bed lay against the wall, blankets that had not been occupied in days lay strewn lonely across the narrow mattress. The room was large, but nothing was beyond it. He lived in a studio apartment with a loft. But the loft was occupied.

Up a narrow flight of only ten steps lived the RedStalker. He lay in wait, for that one perfect predator to come along. Then his icy steel knives would drink in the rich warm blood. RedStalker had been upstairs for too long, the typist could hear the low whistle coming from the open window. He heard the rustle of the black fabric moving with the low breeze. He knew it was time.

RichHotGuy:This has been fun chatting. U R funny and smart

Lisamay2010:Thanks. It's nice to have someone to talk to.

RichHotGuy:It's hard; the kids don't get you, because you're so mature.

Lisamay2010:U R so right! They suck.

RichHotGuy:Why don't we meet?

Lisamay2010:K. Where?

RichHotGuy:Bridge, Wash Str?? BSTN??

Lisamay2010: K. Time?


Lisamay2010: See you there.

RedStalker was ready to come down from his perch and stalk among the depraved souls of Boston. The typing man had found this conversation by breaking into a chat room. He had planted a keystroke recorder and transmitter on every internet caf in, and it paid off immediately. He seldom went a week without learning of some malicious attempt to prey upon the young girls on Boston.

Men who would never cheat on their wives with hookers had no reservations about picking up a teenaged girl on the streets, raping her until she was half mad half dead, then washing her down and throwing her to the next wolf pack roaming through town. Tonight would be a surprise for this one.

Upstairs the typing man stripped his day clothes away from his strong tall body. He was no longer the man of the light. He would become the man of the dark, a man whose heart beat with the pace of the filthy city of Boston. A city built on the water, reeking of its scum and vice. The loft was the domain of the RedStalker, the walls were lined with his news paper clippings, testaments to his accomplishments.

City Alderman Butchered on Streets

Allegations of Child Pornography, Rape.

Local Tycoon Castrated While Awaiting Trial,

Murdered in Bed with 14 Year Old Girl

No suspects as police investigate another on-line murder.

Rape victim describes a "man in black" came to her "rescue"

The RedStalker kept these shreds of newspaper taped to his walls, not as a show of power, but a humble reminder of his mission. He was there not to protect, but to punish, and he would never stray from this path.

He was dressed in black pants. He pulled a collar-less black shirt pulled over his bare chest, but not before it revealed a pattern work of scars ripping down his back. Over this he places a black leather vest, specifically designed for him by The Woman. She was the only one who would ever understand, she had lost her eyes.

The vest was fitted with slits; it housed his knives and had two holsters in the back for his pistols. He didn't carry anything fancy, or modern. Nothing as disgusting for him as a .9mm, or a fancy polished gun from Europe. He had a revolver, six shot with a spinning barrel, two of them. If he ever needed more than twelve bullets he had met his match, and would either use the knives, or finally die in the glory. Over this pulled on a long black trench coat. He wanted a cape, like The Shadow used to wear, but The Shadow wasn't real, just a voice on the radio, just Orson Welles and his make believe. This was real.

His final piece was a hat, a simple black fedora. It made him stand-out, being the man in the hat. Men failed to see the important of wearing hats these days, failed to live up the dignity of their gender in so many ways, fashion was only a small example. He placed it on his head. It settled not a centimeter above his brow.

RedStalker took a good long look at himself. He had left the existence of downstairs far behind. While the creature that lived below the loft sat hulked over a computer, this man stood erect, firm in purpose. He walked with an air of superiority, because he was superior. He slipped each knife into each slit on his vest. The silky "schlit" sound they made thrilled him, it was too long since he had heard that noise. Tonight would be exquisite. He opened the already ajar window and climbed out onto the fire escape, making his way to the ground.

Superheroes chase villains from rooftops, because they are too good to walk the streets with mortal men. RedStalker walked the streets. He was Dante, he was Hell. He was no hero, just a pissed off man willing to take matters into his own hands. The greedy politicians didn't care, the girls wouldn't speak, and the police were too lazy. It was the responsibility of the citizens to rise up, and rid the streets of violence. He would take this call.

Across town, a young girl wearing fashionably low rise jeans got off a late running city bus. She shared this ride with a homeless woman, hoping to score a few hours sleep, and a tired nurse, trying to do the same. She looked both ways before crossing the street. Her little backpack was a Louie Vuitton bag, at least $600, a pimp would sell her for that price, once he insured it was ripe.

The streets were dark, and the limp glow of the gas street lamps cast gloomy shadows into dark alleys. The city came to life at night, in a way that could never be seen it the light. She didn't know this. Her world consisted of make-up, and iTunes. Her largest concern was a cell phone bill she hid from her mother. Her ambition in life was to get out. She wanted out of her mother's house, out of Boston, even out of her own skin if possible.

She had seen a change coming over her these past months, that had became impossible to hide. She saw how the boys at school looked at her, imagining what treasures were under her sweater, up her skirt. It was the same look her step-father had given her one night as she played with the little dog on the carpet at his feet. He had stroked her hair that night, he had done this when she was just little, but that night, it was different, it was wrong.

The RedStalker passed a prostitute trying her hand at the night. It was late for her to still be out on the streets. Either she had no luck earlier, or she was very lucky earlier and was back for more. She missed his glance as he ran his eyes over her body. She was beat up, too many years on her feet and back had given her bad skin, bad hair and a bad attitude. There is damaged goods, and then there's just plain broken, that was her. You could wash her, clean her, put her in a good home, give her a hot meal and the next night she would be out looking for action. He noticed the tell-tale sign of her pimp. He had left his hand mark on her upper arm as a reminder that he called the shots, but the RedStalker noticed something else this time. It was discolored by the blue-yellow bruise but it was a strange mark on her arm. Like someone had taken a brand to her, years ago. He caught only a quick glimpse and moved on, not wanting to attract her attention.

His love was reserved for The Woman, and that was never to be realized. He swore off the flesh when he adopted the RedStalker, but he would never stop yearning for her. Any other woman would be an inferior example of her sex to him. The Woman was a fallen goddess, she was a tortured angel come to Earth for him to find and to fight in the name of.

Across town little Angelique Robichaud sat in a dingy caf. She sipped her hot chocolate cautiously. She had wanted so badly to get coffee, and look adult, but she hated the taste of the concoction, and didn't want to be caught drinking soda. This was her obvious choice. It tasted like it had been made with dishwater. She sat upright, trying not to touch as much of the table as possible. She saw a pair of cockroaches fighting over a crumb of something in a corner. The other customers didn't notice and the man behind the counter didn't seem to care. So they fought on.

She glimpsed at her watch waiting for her mystery man to appear. Where was he, why did he keep her waiting all this time? She looked up from her table and caught another customer glaring at her. She dropped her eyes to her table instinctively, horrified.

The dirty glaring man got up from his table and walked with a limp over to hers. He loomed over her. She fell in his shadow; slowly she looked up at his face. It was scarred and dirt seemed to be smeared into the canyons and crevices on his caved in cheeks.

"Out late for such a little thing, aren't ya?" His voice was gruff, as if he had scars running down his throat.

She only shrugged her shoulders weakly in response, too afraid to open her mouth.

"You're a sweet little thing, huh?" He put a large greasy hand on the table next to her cup. She put her hands in her lap, to distance herself from his touch.

Angelique looked around the caf, hoping that someone would come to her rescue. No one volunteered for the task, no one cared. She was lost in the woods with only the wild animals and no friendly hunter to save her.

"Meaghan, there you are!" A voice came from the doorway. Angelique looked up to face the man she had been talking to for months. He was handsome, he was light.

He quickly approached the table and cast the dirty man away with a hard glare. She smiled gratefully and took his hand. They walked out of the caf and onto the city streets, which no longer seemed so scary to her. She looked around and noticed that the trees shimmered in the moon's glow. She thought how romantic everything was that night.

In the shadows, from an alley between the caf and an abandoned tenement, RedStalker watched them pass. He waited a moment then stepped onto the street to follow at a safe distance.

"I'm glad you came when you did." Angelique said gratefully as they strolled across the Commons.

"I'm sorry I wasn't there sooner," he looked down into her little face. "But now, you can tell everyone about your adventure."

"Oh, my name's not really Meaghan, it's Angelique, but people mostly call me Angie." Her feet shuffled on the wet pavement of the walk. They were perfectly framed in this romantic moment. The two of them, standing at the center of the bridge, two swan boats docked for the night just underneath them. The park was silent, as though even the birds observed the strict curfew of the Boston Police Department. The willows dipped their heavy, heaving depressed branches into the water, causing tiny ripples.

His hand was under her chin, raising her face to his. She locked her eyes into his gaze, unafraid for the first time that night.

"You are Angel, my Angel."

She smiled at that and accepted his kiss. It wasn't her first. The first had been a boy on roller skates at the park when she was only nine. He was teaching her to skate backwards, he held her in the sturdiest arms that a forth grader could possess. Suddenly he kissed her. She had never told anyone about that, but for days afterwards she thought she was in love.

A few years later they were in junior high, she was on the cheerleading squad and he joined the forensic science team. She no longer believed herself in love, but he never forgot the first perfect kiss he had shared with an angel.

"Let's get inside, the night air is too damp for you." He took her hand and led her along the pathway out of the park and down Boylston.

The RedStalker had seen quite enough, he knew how this would end. He was only going to wait for the right time to strike, but not before. The child should learn to fear the opposite sex, but not be ruined by it.

He began his stride again, at a safe distance. They wouldn't know that he watched their kiss, he heard their words, he saw the man's desire in his eyes, even if the child couldn't see it at that close a range, the RedStalker had seen it.

Angel, as she had just been christened walked along, growing tired as the trudge. Since leaving the park his pace had quickened and taken many twists and turns. On occasion he would pass a smile back at her. He was trying to reassure her that she had made the right choice in trusting him, but each time he did it she became more aware of the painful gnawing in her mind telling her to break his grasp on her wrist. She felt the need to run, to scream, to return to her mother's care, kick the stepfather out and stay locked away until college.

She pulled her wrist a little to test his grip, it was firm. He felt her try to get free and snapped around, tightening the grip on her slim wrist. The pain shot through her arm like fire, she knelt down and yelped like a small dog that had been kicked.

"What's the hurry, we're almost there." He smiled, Angel thought his smiled looked different know. It was cruel, harsh.

"It's late, I should go."

"Not yet, but soon." He pulled her on. They turned one last corner and he pushed her down an alleyway. It was dark, puddles of diseased water lined the cobble-stone walkway, her trendy sneakers sucked up the water and stained her socks inside. She wanted to cry but held it in.

His hand was on the back of her neck, guiding her towards one open door at the end of the alley. She stopped and tried to run, but he grabbed her hair, some was ripped out, but most held to her scalp, ceasing her escape.

"Oh, not yet." He forced her up against the cold wall of the building and stood behind her. She began to panic as his free hand traveled over her jeans and slid down the back.

"No, don't." She could only whisper he pressed her so hard against the building it almost knocked out her breath. "I want to go home."

"Slut, you are home." His hand traveled to the front her pants and undid her button, slowly pulled down her fly. His two long fingers slid in between her legs. "I'm going to break you in, then I'm going to sell you off."

She started to whimper and plead with him to release her. He held her against the wall with his knee as he removed his shirt.

"I figure in about a month, you'll have been fucked so raw you won't know which way is up. And if you give me anymore grief," he said twisting her hair which elicited a scream, "I'll just dope you up."

She could only cover her cries by clamping her mouth shut. He pulled her back from the wall and pushed her forward towards the open door. A figure stepped out into the alley, it was the dark figure of a tall, lean man, in a hat.

"Who the fuck are you?" The man behind Angel hollered.

"Little girl, have you learned not to play with fire?" The shadowy figure asked.

She nodded meekly, praying to God that this was her deliverance. The figure advanced down the alleyway.

Angel's capture released her, pushing her into a dumpster and knocking her to her feet. "You stay there, you so much as move and I'll rape you with this!" He pulled out a knife flashing at her. The fear in her eyes excited him. He was only able to take one step before the RedStalker was next to him. It was lightening move, the RedStalker ran at the man, knocking him down with one blow. The man kicked out at the RedStalker's knees, knocking him off balance.

The RedStalker grabbed his injured knee, he took his mind off the fight for only a moment, but that's all it took for the man to return to his feet, he held his knife out and slashed at the RedStalker wildly, catching a piece of his trench coat. The RedStalker backed up two paces. He looked up, spotted a low hanging fire escape. The RedStalker jumped up, caught the lowest rung and kicked with both his feet at the chest of the man. The man caught the blow full force and tumbled back, his breath had been forced from his body.

The RedStalker wasted no time taking advantage to finish off the rapist. He pulled out his long knife. The RedStalker walked up to the man gasping for breath. He held up his knife across his arm, "let me help you" is all he said as he slashed one fatal swing across the man's neck.

It was such a clean strike that the man didn't realize for a moment what had happened. Both men remained motionless for a moment, then the man's head titled back and the blood bubbled up through the slit in his neck. It was a slow trickle at first, but soon it was a waterfall cascading down his neck. The man's eyes locked on the RedStalker with confusion, he slunk to his knees and then his lifeless body fell with a thud onto the cobblestone. His blood joined the rest of the filth and murk in the puddles of Boston.

RedStalker noticed on his left shoulder blade was the same mark of the whore he had seen before. The half circle with a slash through it.

Angel, the freed captive, starred up in disbelief at the RedStalker. She wasn't sure what she was to do. He looked down at her. His eyes softened as he helped her to her feet. He motioned for her to stay where she stood and to remain quiet. He took a small cell phone out of his coat, dialed a number and handed the phone to her. He turned to walk away but she tried to follow. He turned around and pointed to the ground. She felt like an unwanted stray.

"Where are you going?" She shouted after him.

"911. What is your emergency?" The voice in the phone said disinterestedly.

The girl brought the phone to her lips and barely said above a whisper, "I think this man is dead."

2 " Salvation

"Where did you go tonight?" She asked from behind the curtain.

The RedStalker ended each night here. It was his only church now, and she was his molested and angered Goddess.

"Another one is gone. I noticed something tonight; I may need your knowledge." He paced the apartment floor. He owned this apartment, furnished it, ensured that the food was delivered, it was his money that brought in the water, heat and electricity but he would never take the liberty of assuming any rights in this sanctuary.

"In a moment, but first you must sit." She moved ghostlike through the apartment, her pale hands running over every inch of furniture. This guided her from location to location. She had the apartment memorized, she never left, this was her entire universe, but for some reason she never fully trusted her own mind. She waited until he had sat in the large easy chair which was for his use alone. She walked into the kitchen and put the kettle on for tea.

He looked into her face with sympathy and love. He was amazed that she no longer terrified him. He was enthralled with what he saw, it was love, pain and beauty, all twisted into one glory, her.

She was pale from the years of exile from the world. She lived in that apartment, the shades drawn, no light entered her abode. Her face was small, with beautiful features. Her mouth showed every emotion she felt and betrayed her each time. Her beautiful pale face was a canvas of pain and joy mixing constantly. She had beautiful chestnut hair that she wore loosely pulled back. A perfect nose and high brow created the lines of the face of a statue. He remembered the first time he had seen her how perfect she looked. He looked past the setting, past the tattered and dirty clothes and into the clear blue eyes of The Woman.

The thought of those eyes sent a sharp pain to his heart. It was he who had cost her those eyes. Where those pretty blue eyes had once slept now only lived to vacant black holes, exposed to the air of the apartment. Each lined with the remains of a jagged lid which once had captivated the heart of everyman. Her eyes, her weapons, had been plucked from her pretty face.

He found her that way, wondering the streets, bleeding, crying. She was groping her way around in the dark. He bent over to help her to her feet when she looked up at him. The thought would never leave his soul, she looked up with nothing. Her tears mingled with the blood. This was his fault, he had made her fall in love with him, and for this neither would ever love again.

He took her home, nursed her. After a few days she had grown strong. The Woman was a Goddess, and men can't kill what is immortal by gouging it. She became stronger, angrier than he had ever seen. She would be his warrior Goddess, his Shiva. She was as treacherous as the sea, but would never turn her spite on him.

He moved her into the apartment. Taught her brail, she could read. She had all the time in the world to occupy and strengthen her mind, which she did. She read literature, all the great works, philosophy, histories. She read of wars and kingdoms falling, she read of loves and heartbreaks, she read of law and justice and learned the difference. He would work for justice if that's what she desired.

He bought her an upright piano, which she played everyday. The music called out to her in her world of darkness. Her brought her new music with every visit, she liked Chopin the most, the passion, the heartbreak spoke to her. She played the Raindrops Prelude for him each time he came over. It was the only weakness he allowed himself, the only joy, the only sorrow. That song pulled his soul out, it tormented him, and he loved it. It told his story, a man, so fiercely in love with a woman he could die from it, and he was not able to possess her. She walked away from him, she denied him, she had abandoned him.

"What did you do tonight?" She asked after she had settled into her chair opposite him with a cup of tea for both of them. He reached across and took the mug she offered him.

"I found a predator, and I ended him."

She smiled over the rim of her mug; even with a ravaged face she was lovely when she smiled. "You're going to have to do better than that Orson." Orson was her favored nickname for him. She used it when she was at her most playful.

"I picked up his scent on the net. He had logged in at the CityCyberCafe and began to chat up this girl. They had evidently been talking for some time. I think the girl was being abused at home, I may check it out later."

"No, stay on track. We don't make house calls." She was stern, staring him and he got the familiar feeling that she could see him. Somehow those exposed nerve-endings had figured out a way to see without eyes.

He agreed. If she was having trouble at home, that was Brighton, this was Boston. They had real police, not the hired thugs and the rape gangs found in the city, owned and operated by the Mayor and in bed with the mob. Irishmen with sticks walked the streets, slugging at anything that moved against their stream. Boston, the birthplace of liberty had become a police-state, without police, just thugs with guns.

"I think he was a pimp. I couldn't figure out if he was with a gang, or a private investor. But he was planning on breaking her in, then selling her off to a dealer." He took a gulp of tea and swallowed hard. "I killed him. The girl's fine. The cops should have taken her home by now."

"You left her there?" She asked, she was more interested than concerned. The Woman saved all of her concern for the RedStalker and had none left over for the rest of the world.

"Yes. I have a series of pre-paid phones; I give them to the girls after dialing 911. I usually hang around long enough to make sure they report the crime and aren't going to take off."

"That's a good plan. You have disappeared before the pretend-police show up. The girls don't suffer the consequences, and they hopefully get medical attention."

"This one didn't need any help from doctors, maybe a shrink or two, but not EMTs." He took another long sip of tea, it had cooled by then and tasted just the way he liked it. He wondered how she knew how he took his teach without ever asking. She was his salvation.

"You said you saw something interesting?" She prompted after a moment's silence. "What was that?"

He thought how to best approach this. She had been a favorite when she worked. She was the boss's private stock. He never noticed a mark on her body. That is until her eyes were torn free from her head.

"I saw an unusual mark on a girl's arm tonight." He talked slowly, thinking carefully before forming the next sentence. "It was carved into her arm, maybe, although it could have been burnt in. It looked like a letter, maybe a 'C' only backwards."

"Crescent moon?" She sipped her tea calmly.

He thought for a minute. A flash of the girl's arm raced through his memory. It was quick, but long enough to get the image. "Yes, it was but there was something through it. Like it had been crossed out."

She knitted her brow and he could see the muscles around her socket contract, she would have been squinting. She squinted when she thought.

"There was a gang that used to tattoo it's cattle with the Crescent Moon. They were out of Chinatown..."

"No, the girl was white."

"Well that didn't matter. What matters is that someone defaced the mark and she's still out on the street."

He was caught off guard by how quickly she could come to a conclusion. "What do you mean?" He wasn't following her lead.

"I mean, that a girl is marked, she's the property of that gang. She's a walking territory boundary. If she wonders out of bounds wearing that mark, not only is she fair game for rape and a beat down, but the offending gang has to pay a fine. The symbol is like a brand, some are carved in, but the more sophisticated gangs use brands. It's faster, and believe it or not, more humane."

He shuddered to listen to The Woman explain it all with such grace and ease. He had worked in this world. He had run the books for the gang she belonged to. He wasn't from that world. He was an accountant who wanted a little bit of adventure. He created an off-shore account and a tax-proof money laundering scam. He didn't steal, he didn't complain about the hours and they treated him like a brother. He was given money, women, a car, a pass to show the cops so he could stay out all night, get into any club, anything he wanted. But much like all men, he got greedy. He fell in love, the worst form of greed. They would have forgiven stealing.

"But the brands also kept cattle from going astray." She continued, "there was no 'heading for greener pastures.' Once a girl was marked she had to stay, it was understood on all families. If a girl tried to disguise her mark by cutting it up, or cutting it out of her arm she was mutilated..." Her voice trailed off quickly. She had forgotten that she was an example of just that.

They starred across the room in awkward silence for a moment. She cleared her throat and continued on, "she would be beaten to a pulp, marred up, cut off her nose, like they did in Puritan days. Then she was handed over to a wolf-pack. After that she had to walk the streets alone, no protection, and no territory. She was prey to families, gangs, cops, pedestrians, even other girls. Most girls turned up dead in a week. I never heard of anyone getting out and home to 'Mom and Dad'" she chuckled meanly, "not that they'd take back the piece of garbage that their daughter had become."

"That was this girl, she was rough looking but it looked like life had done the real beating." The RedStalker thought back to her hard cracked sink, slight bruises. Nothing was out of the ordinary for a hop-head prostitute.

He sat back in his chair and mused over it for a few more minutes. Why would a girl be allowed to walk around with a damaged mark?

"You said there 'was' a gang that used the Crescent Moon, are they under now?"

"Yes. They fell under during the second war. The Irish mob moved them out, that must have been about fifteen years ago."

He recalled the whore he had passed earlier that night. She had led a hard long life on the streets. She probably started hooking at 15, maybe 16 years old. Fifteen years of that would age a woman pretty damned fast. She was former Crescent Moon, alright. But what happened to the punishment? Was she picked up out of pity by a rival gang? That seemed bloody unlikely.

She noticed his breathing and realized he was falling too deep into thought. "I think it's time for Chopin. Lead me to the piano?" She place her cup on the coffee table and extended her hand to him.

It was five paces away from her but she liked the gentlemanly way he held her arm. He cradled her wrist in his soft palm, held her elbow gently, almost caressing it. She glided into the seat like silk. He stood back a few steps watching her arms move gracefully up the keys, pressing them with such a tenderness it was as though she were making love to the piano. He felt his body soften as the first few notes of Prelude in E mixed in the air. Chopin's music was like a godsend in this horrid city, and he praised not God, but the Goddess who delivered it to him.

She was his prayer, answered.

3 " Searching

He went out for the second time that night. This action was not unusual. Sometimes he hunted down two, three, maybe four predators on a particularly busy night. Tonight was different because he was on a blind hunt for the first time. There was no cyber trail to follow. Often he knew the destination of the meet. He could wait to pick up a scent and then follow the trail to where the attack would be.

Never had he gone out with no mission, he wasn't out to hunt, he was out to understand. He hit the street with a savage walk. Granted he had no idea in what direction his path would take him, but he was in a hurry to get there. The RedStalker thought it best to try to find the marked whore. He could question her for information on her brand and maybe find some answers.

He walked the streets for almost an hour. Initially her had gone to the abandoned street front where he had first seen her. She was gone, the spot was not occupied by two pros and what looked like a trainee.

"Ladies, a moment?" He walked over casually, tipping the brim of his hat to them. This won a superior smirk from the leader of the three weird sisters.

"Just a moment, we're on the clock and if the boss catches us ours won't be the only ass he takes it out on." She walked over to him slowly. Either she was trying to be sexy, or she had a hip problem. Judging from her line of work it was more probably the latter. She stopped only a few feet away from his and placed her three-fingered left hand on her round, full hip.

"I'm looking for a girl."

All three laughed.

"And what are we, ducks?" The trainee blurted out. She was fiery, but not bitter. Within one month she would be beyond reach. The nuns who prowled the streets looked for girls to rescue. They stopped girls and looked into their eyes. It was the dead hard look that disqualified a girl.

A nun would offer the girl a smoke, get to talking to her. While they chatted the nun would take one sharp look into the girl's eyes. If her eyes were hard there was hope still. Dead hard meant her soul had left her. She was walking around on borrowed time. The nuns would give her food, a warm blanket, some even hooked the girl up with a fix, but you don't bring home a stray badger.

When there was even just a faint glimmer left in her eyes no matter how dull they would try like hell to get her out. It wasn't much of a life they offered. They were monastic for a year, which was mostly for de-tox. After they had cleaned up and could live without the drugs mentally they had three years of study. Some of the girls didn't know "Christ" beyond the swear word. The girls who lasted three years, which were not many, received their vows, and were fully indoctrinated. After that their real education began.

Three straight months of self-defense and weapons training combined with counseling to bring in the new recruits. The Catholic Church had finally realized that the nuns were not being protected by their gowns and veils. Walk soft, carry a big crucifix.

After the war, the church had split from Rome. The priests and cardinals of the United States elected a pope of their own, he was located in NYC. These nuns were Jesuits, the order started taking in women when the American Pope, as he was referred to, decided that women and men were equal soldiers for Christ. They ran the last form of education regular people could get in the commonwealth. It was a small fee, and you only had to convert on paper, no one cared what was in your heart.

This girl would have been one hell of a nun. Her eyes were on first as they looked at him. He felt his skin burn under her glare. She was amazing. He wised she would get out before the streets, the drugs, the life, the whole cesspool existence she lived got to her and that fire was gone.

"You." He pointed squarely at her. "How much?"

The older woman stepped between them, "now hold on. We got seniority in this spot. You can't just come in here and pick the smallest apple off the tree. Why not try something ripe?"

"No, I don't eat rotten fruit." He grabbed the young girl by the wrist and pulled her away from her sisters.

The over-ripe piece was shrieking at him from her station. She wouldn't follow, her pimp could be watching.

RedStalker pulled the girl into a dark alley way and shoved two twenties into her palm. She stepped towards the wall.

"Oh baby, you take me to the best places." She leaned her back against the wall and pulled her skirt up over her hips.

"No, not that." He waved his hand at her.

She sighed loudly and mumbled something about this being the third time that week and turned around. At first he thought she wanted him to search her with her palms against the wall and her feet a stance apart. His memory kicked in and he felt sickened.

"No. You misunderstand my intentions. I need information from you. Nothing more." He placed his hands on her skirt and smoothed it down over her hips. She didn't recoil from him or flinch at his touch, but her face was utter confusion.

"What do you want?" She said turning around. He noticed that her face was flushed, was that a blush? A hooker with a heart of gold, that was for the movies.

"Okay, first I want to know what house you belong to." He took out a note pad and quickly scribbled down the date and location. He looked at her waiting for a response.

She looked at he twenties in her hand, and her expression turned bitter. "What are you, a writer or something? Well listen, if you're writing the next great American novel, you can just keep me out of it!" She threw the money on the ground and turned to leave. He grabbed her arm and held her still.

"I'm not a writer. I'm just a man willing to pay you to talk. Now if you'd like to go back to your corner I can get another girl, but you look sharp to me and I'd like to stick with you."

She lowered her eyes to think it over. Then she bent over and picked up the discarded money. She stashed it into the top of her boot, met his gaze and nodded quickly.

"I'm with Mother Tam's house on South Street. We operate out of the Tam District. He's her nephew, he's pretty good to her too. She runs the house without interference. The boys are free, but they never mess a girl up." She shrugged as though they were doing her a favor by not beating on her.

"What's your mark?" He said, not looking up from his notes, he was writing furiously.

She rolled up her short sleeve and he could clearly see the brand on her arm. It was a Chinese character, but he didn't know what it meant. It looked like a brand, not a carve job.

She noticed his eyes running over it.

"It means unity. It's in old Chinese, not simplified Kanji. The Tam family escaped Mao China in the 1950s."

He looked at her, she was curious for a whore.

"How old is this?" The skin around the brand was healed over, it wasn't the mark he expected to find on a fresh recruit.

"About two years. Why?"

"I thought you were much newer." He looked at her eyes again, they still glowed with fire, but now they had softness in them. She was happy to talk, happy to explain things.

"Nope, I've been on the streets for a while. But I got picked up by Mother Tam's house about two years ago. I'm glad they found me and not the Irish gangs."

"Have you ever seen a girl with this brand?" He hadn't heard her last statement; he was busy drawing the mark he had seen on the girl only a few hours previous.

"Yeah," she said slowly, suspiciously. "I've seen that on three girls this month. I was surprised too, because they'd kill me if I marked this up."

"Were they all the same?"

She nodded, but he could tell she was thinking on it.

"What is it?" He prompted.

"It's the slash really, the brands are old, but the slash is new. It's not a new brand; it's defacing an old brand. That's what it is isn't it?"

He smiled at her, she was sharp. "Yeah, that's precisely what it is." She smiled back at him. He wondered if this was the best night she had in a while.

"Could you help me find a girl with that mark on her?"

"Oh no." She said backing up, suddenly she dropped her gaze to the ground and lost all confidence. "I can't leave, and besides those girls are in a scary territory."

He found it rather ironic that a prostitute would find anything scary. "Why, what's wrong?"

"Well, the girls are always being picked up by the cops. You know what happens to a girl who's picked up?" She shuddered, there wasn't much left in the world that could make a girl who had spent two hard years on the streets shudder, but that would be it. Girls picked up by the cops usually disappeared and when they came back they were 'retired', which was a blessing.

"I have to find a woman who is carrying this mark. I want to find out what's going on. If there's a new house, or something like that, I have to know about it."

"Well, have fun then." She shrugged and walked down the alley. He followed a few steps behind her.

"Hey, wait a minute." He gently took her hand and stopped her. "I could really use your help. I stopped a young girl from the suburbs from getting raped and possibly sold to this house." He pleaded with her, looking directly into her clear eyes with his hopes hanging on her acquiescence. "She was only fourteen years old. Don't you want to help stop this life?"

"Nope. Have a nice night." She turned on her heels and walked down the alley.

"I'll pay you more." He said in a defeated tone.

The girl stopped at the end of the alleyway. She wasn't turning around, but she also wasn't leaving.

"I'll pay you one hundred dollars." He said admitting defeat to her.

She was still not moving, but he could see that she was thinking it over.

"Come on, the rest of the night, you get off your back, two hundred dollars. You keep one hundred and report the other to the pimp."

She spun around, "I never could resist your charm."

"We just met," he said confused.

"That was a joke. I'm funny, all my friends say so."

They made their way across town to where she had seen the three girls with the symbol. The RedStalker was becoming very confused; these girls seemed to have no territory. The girl was able to walk around because she was with him, and provided she keep her face turned down when they passed someone no one suspected she wasn't one of their girls.

She led him down to the water front. That made sense the basin was neutral territory. Gangs used it for conferences and trade offs. It was crap territory and no one wanted to work down there. Mainly it was a mass graveyard where no one ever placed flowers. The gangs dumped bodies of 'retired' girls, turn coats, rival gang members, nosey reporters and a pain in the ass assistant district attorney.

They saw a small group of women standing around. They didn't appear to be looking for work, but they were waiting for something. There was no traffic in his area. If they weren't waiting for business, what the hell were they looking for?

"Come on, let's check this out." RedStalker walked over with the girl in tow. They approached the women who began to move away from each other instinctively.

"Wait, I'm not looking for trouble." He called out to the girls. A few stayed where they were, while the others stood near the group at a safe distance.

"You'll find it if you don't get out of here." One of the girls hovering in the back warned.

"Shut up, Alex." The woman in the front of the group cynically ordered. She looked "What do you want?"

"I'm looking for a girl with a mark on her arm." He stopped as he noticed that this woman had the same brand.

She saw his eyes locked on his arm. "This mark?" She positioned her arm so he could have a better look. It appeared fresh, but only in half. The brand was old, but the gash was still scabbed over. He looked from one girl to another. They all had fresh scabs, some with skin just scarred over, all carrying a disfigured brand on her arm. The brands were all different as were the women. Some were young, old, pretty, horrid, the entire pick of the putrid rainbow.

"What is going on?"

"You don't want to know. Now why don't you play smart and get out of here?" She seemed nice, but he was testing her patience.

"Oh, fuck, here they come." One of the girls who had wandered off to the street had come back in a hurry. She seemed more scared for herself than for the present company.

RedStalker sensed that his girl was tensing up and might start to panic. He quick dodged down the peer and into an abandoned shipping container. There was already two homeless men sleeping there. His intrusion roused them. The RedStalker shot them a look that shut them up fast.

Through the opening in the rotted wood he watched the scene unfold. A truck of men got out and herded the girls in. None of them put up a fight, but he men rough handed them anyway. The truck took off in a hurry but most of the men remained behind waiting for something. They didn't wait long. Another truck pulled up, this time the two men climbed out of the front cab.

The RedStalker squinted his eyes to get a keener vision. He felt movement to his right. The girl had craned her heck to look out a small hole of her. She was watching the entire event with the greatest interest, as though this might be a familiar scene to her. The RedStalker didn't judge this the best time to question her and focused his attention back to the truck.

The two men had enlisted the help of two others, they unchained the doors at the back of the truck and began herding blindfolded and gagged girls out and lining them up. After each girl was taken from the truck she was tied to a long piece of rope secured to the ground. One acted up and tried to get away, one guard took the butt of his gun to her back, which shut her up immediately.

Once the truck was unloaded and the cattle were tied, a guard took the secured end of the line and led them into a warehouse. The girls trudged along with little resistance. They were scared, dirty and willing to comply for food and rest.

There was something very wrong with the picture in the RedStalker's mind. He noticed that while their clothing was dirty and torn, it was expensive and looked new. There were no worn knees in the jeans, the shirt collars were tattered. They all had sneakers with even trend. It was their hair that really looked out of place. It shone, even though it was disheveled and ratted, it was shiny and he was certain that had been close enough he could have smelled the tell-tale sign of shampoo and hair product.

"What should we do?" The girl at his side asked.

He shook his head and raised his finger to her lips. She knew to stay put and stay quiet. Eventually a few of the men came out and got into the front cab of the truck. They took off back into town.

The RedStalker knew he had to go inside. He walked out of the crate and started towards the warehouse. He heard footsteps immediately behind him and spun around, it was the girl. She was following him. She was actually crouching, as if that would prevent anyone from seeing her, being six inches shorter.

"What are you doing? You stay here." He pointed back at the crate.

She looked at the crate, then back at him. "Like hell! I'm going in there with you." She stopped and pulled her head back, surprised at the words that came out of her mouth but more surprised by the conviction behind them. She wasn't sure what she wanted, or what she thought she was doing, but she suddenly found herself compelled to know more. The curiosity was going to drive her crazy, and frankly a whore's life wasn't much, if it ended tonight in some daring adventure than what the hell, right?

He stopped, he would have argued more, but that would have attracted attention and probably got both of them killed. "Fine, but for God's sake, stand up straight. You look like a fool walking hunch-backed. In fact," he started thinking, "walk in front of me, and put on like you're pissed off at me. But don't get too far ahead, maybe a pace or two."

She caught on quickly, and with a smile agreed. She walked a few steps in front of him and strode like she was in a big pissed off hurry. On occasion she shot him a nasty glare from in front. The ruse worked perfectly, they walked past the two guards standing about twenty feet away from the gate with nothing more than a nod. They made their way inside the gate and the RedStalker quickly began counting the guards and guns that he saw.

There were three that had could see on the ground, two on the roof, but there could be more. Fortunately everyone seemed a little sleepy; evidently it wasn't often visited so security became relaxed.

"I'm running out of room here, where are we going?" The girl looked back at him; her courage was beginning to fail.

The RedStalker looked around for an easy way in. He lucked out. Just beyond the gate was an alley between the two main buildings of the warehouse. He grabbed the girl's neck, firmly enough to convince the two guards standing at the main door. He lead her into the darkened alley, the two guards standing by the door didn't budge, just smirked.

The girl walked into the alley first and as soon as she noticed they were free from observation she pulled free of his grasp. She wasn't mad; it was her instinct to jerk away from people.

"Okay, so what are we doing?" She rubbed the back of her neck. The RedStalker felt very guilty, he had tried to ensure his grip was soft.

The RedStalker found a window that led into the building's basement. He looked through the dirty glass. It shone into an empty room, this was their optimal entry point. "Okay, we're going in her." He wrapped his hand in his trench coat and punched in a window, the noise was rang into the hollow room, but alarmed no one. He slid his arm into the empty pane, unlatched the window and pushed it up. He lowered his body into the room and planted his feet on a table. He stood in the room for a few minutes, waiting to make sure there was no signs of life. He waved to the girl to follow him in. Her two tiny feet poked through the window first, he put his hands on her hips and pulled her into the room, placing her securely at his side. Her body pressed against his as she steadied herself and he caught her scent. She felt soft in his hands.

He forced himself to think of The Woman and banish anything else from his mind. He took his hands off her fast and pushed her away, not to knock her off, but to get a much needed distance. He jumped down from the table and extended his hand to her. She didn't take it. She had mistaken his push for something ruder and had been offended. He sensed that, but he didn't have the time or the inclination to explain and fortunately she didn't want one.

"Stay here for a minute, don't worry, I'm not going anywhere without." He walked over to the door and pressed his ear to it, searching for noise. He could hear a faint sound of breathing and a few whimpers. But no footsteps came to him.

He slowly opened the door, thankfully it didn't creak. His eyes went wide and his blood ran from his face as he took in the scene of the room. Almost thirty girls were lying on the floor curled up. They were asleep, some of them cuddling with another, some aside against a wall. All were still tied, blindfolded and gagged.

The RedStalker waved for the girl to come to the door but closed it before she could see into the room.

"Listen, you have to remain absolutely quiet, no matter what." He said, barely above a whisper.

She nodded to him, slowly warming back up to him.

He opened the door and watched her face change as she looked into the room. He saw her mouth, 'what the hell' without being betrayed by her breath. She walked silently into the room, stepping carefully around the girls, making desperately certain not to wake any. They made their way out of the room and into the hallway. There was a flight of stares at the end, the RedStalker started for it with a renewed pace. But the girl grabbed his coat and halted him.

"We can't just leave those girls there."

"We are, but only for now. If we try to free them, it will create noise and bring everyone in here. We've got to find out what gang is behind this, and then come back here for these girls." He looked at her, she wasn't convinced that he was planning on returning for them, but she agreed none-the-less.

They walked up the stairwell, which was fortunately abandoned. It was a low building, only three stories. The RedStalker remembered from his days of working books for the gangs that the offices were never the top floor, or the bottom floor. It was always a floor between; it's the best possible place to be, equi-distant from both escape routes.

He opened the door just a crack to look into the second floor hallway, it was crawling with activity. She pulled him back from the door.

"This is crazy. We can't go busting in there, we'll get killed."

"What would you propose?" He challenged her.

"If we create some kind of big scene, something that clears out the building maybe we can get the girls out." There was no arguing with her. The RedStalker thought of the options, it would be impossible to sneak onto this floor, but with a big enough diversion they could load the girls into a truck and get them out.

In the back of the compound they found canisters of gas and several old model trucks. There were no guards at this section. The gangs were never as organized as the media made them out to be. Except for the money records everything was laid back and ineffective.

He tipped over one drum of gas and watched as the liquid split out into the dirt. It quickly spread to the other drums and the trucks. They backed away several feet, RedStalker a rag and left it on the ground near the advancing gasoline. They turn and ran back to the warehouse and re-entered the basement. Within moments the explosions started and the sky lit up like day. The voices and tramping feet of the men above them sounded out as the men poured out of the building and in the garage, each trying to put out the fire.

The RedStalker and the girl ran into the room which contained the girls, all had woken up groggily to the noise and rumble. Some began to panic, others to resume crying. The RedStalker handed the girl a knife, "untie them, but everyone stay in this room."

They worked quickly, untie each girl and quickly instructing her to stay quiet and help with the girls around her. They were all stuck in the building for a few more minutes. RedStalker dove back into the office and scurried out the window. The girl herded the young girls into the office and one by one they began to go through the window. The taller ones got out first to pull the shorter one up.

A large truck barreled to a stop at the entrance of the alleyway, the girls outside instinctively recoiled in fear, until they saw the figure of the man in the black jacket emerge from the driver's seat. They ran up the alley and into the opened back of the truck, again helping in the smaller girls in. Some of the youngest girls were under ten years of age. They crowded in, these trucks, which seated fifteen men could hold thirty girls, if not comfortably.

When the last of them were out the girl climbed through the window, she was aided by the RedStalker. They ran down the alley but were stopped by the firing of bullets. Two guards appeared at the other end of the alley. The RedStalker turned to look, but only for a moment. As soon as he saw them advancing he turned, grabbed the girl and ran. The shots chased them down the alley, RedStalker crouched low and ran wildly away from his predators.

Suddenly he was yanked back, the girl who had been at his side almost this entire night let out a wild yell of pain. He looked down at her and noticed the blood pouring out of her leg and for the first time that night felt love her. He turned to his attackers who had stopped firing and began to reload. The RedStalker wasted no time; he ran at the first one knocking him off his feet and shot a punch out at the second. The first man reached for the gun that had followed him to the ground, but the RedStalker stepped on his hand breaking three fingers. The man howled out.

The second man was in better shape. Quickly recovering from his blow he landed one of his own square in the chest of the RedStalker, sending him tumbling back, but not off his feet. The second guard advanced, wanting to take advantage. He hit the RedStalker again, this time on the cheekbone. Tears welled up in the RedStalker's right eye, blurring his vision. He leaned back to avoid the next, predictable, shot and kicked out with his left foot. The kick landed in the man's stomach sending him back.

The first man had regained his footing and had come to the aid of his friend. He swept his foot around and knocked the RedStalker off his feet. The man raised his foot and pointed his heal at the face of the RedStalker now on the ground. He would have made short work of the RedStalker had he not rolled quickly to the right, both avoiding the descending foot and knocking the first man back onto the ground. The man was now on the ground next to the RedStalker. Quickly the RedStalker raised his leg and brought his own boot down on the man's chest.

RedStalker swung his legs around to flip himself onto his stomach and pushed himself off the ground. He stood up slowly to face the second guard just now getting up. Quickly the RedStalker had pulled two blades from the vest under his jacket and sunk both of them into the man's chest. The second man stood still for a moment, looking down at his chest and the small circles of blood staining his shirt, then fell to the ground. He looked like a pile of dirty clothes. The RedStalker turned his attention to the original guard, who looked up at him with fear. The RedStalker may have spared him, except that this guard had shot his guide for the evening.

He knelt down, placing a knee on the man's chest. The RedStalker pulled a knife out of the guard's companion's chest and stuck it directly into the center of this man's chest. He leaned in closely and stared deeply into his eyes as the man gasped and then expired.

He stood up, pulled both knives out and wiped them off on his pants before replacing them into his vest. He looked down, the girl was lying crumpled on the ground. A wave of panic seized him, he bent down and felt her warm body. She was alive, she had fainted from the pain. The RedStalker picked her up and carried her to the truck. The girls were there waiting in the back. He place his girl in the passenger seat of the front cab, climbed into the driver's seat and took off.

The truck careened across the courtyard of the warehouse compound and through the gates which had been closed. He swerved to avoid two guards who had stepped out to halt him but hit and crushed a third. The truck began taking fire and the girls in the back screamed as they bounced over potholes. The RedStalker just hoped that the idiot guards aimed at the truck and not the tires, he was lucky, there wasn't a marksman amongst them. There never truly was.

He was two blocks away when he heard the sirens of the police and fire departments pulling into the basin area. He looked over at the girl in the passenger seat, she was turning pale, he gunned the truck and pushed on.

They got out of Boston and he stopped in Sharon, thinking the girls would be safe with this police department. He pulled the truck to a stop in the parking lot of a convenient store and shut off the engine. The RedStalker got out and walked to the back, opening the door and helping the girls to the ground.

"Call your parents; have them meet you here before you call the police." He put a heavy emphasis on the word before, hoping that the eldest girl would take his hint. She seemed to be of the clever sort and gave a nod in return. He went to go, but was caught from behind.

"No, mister, wait." One of the little girls came up to him, she was barely eleven years old. "Thank you." She started to cry. He dropped to his knees and hugged her tightly.

"You'll be okay now." He stroked her hair and shushed her sobs. Addressing the crowd he said, "be smart. Let this girl," he pointed at what he assumed was the oldest, "call her parents first. After they get here, and only after, do you call the police. And don't go anywhere with anyone until your parents arrive. Not even if they say they're cops."

The girls meekly agreed. He got back into the truck and drove away. He felt horrid for leaving the girls before he had made sure their parents arrived, but he couldn't take the chance of being spotted by a cop and dragged in for 'questioning.'

He wasn't sure where to take the girl next to him. The others all had families and homes, this one had a pimp and a corner waiting for her. The chances of her getting time off to recover were slim and frankly the beating she would get for coming back injured might hurt more than getting shot had. There was only one place he could take her.

"You're back." Said The Woman, her smile froze on her face and she spoke slowly. "And you've brought company?"

He wasn't sure if she was offended or not but he couldn't risk standing in the hallway with a bleeding prostitute.

"I had to bring her somewhere, she helped me tonight. I have a lot I need to tell you but we need to come in, she's hurt."

The Woman moved out of the way, "bring her in." Her voice was urgent, she was not jealous, or angry, just surprised by this sudden social change in him.

The Woman, after ascertaining the injury, knew what to do. With the skill of a nurse she fished out the bullet with a knitting needle, the bound and dressed the wound. She woke the girl up and gave her tea flavored with rum, then insisted that she stay awake. She moved the girl to the couch in the living room and wrapped her in a thick blanket.

In her injured state the girl's vision had blurred which was fortunate, she gazed uncomprehendingly into The Woman's face, not fully understanding what she saw. She drifted in and out of consciousness. The Woman forced two more cups of tea on her before being satisfied with the girl's improvement. She put the back of her hand to the girl's face, and felt her warmth returning before finally allowing her to fall asleep on the couch, where she would spend the night.

After the girl was taken care of he divulged the whole story to The Woman. She listened patiently and quietly, all the time thinking and making connections. After the RedStalker had finished he sat back and waited for her response. She sat upright on the settee; her face was marble and unmovable for a long time.

"It seems we have a turf war brewing, but it's not territory, it's cattle." She titled her head to the side and thought a little more. "You'll have to go back to that warehouse soon and find out what you can. It sounds as thought they are kidnapping girls from the suburbs and selling them off."

"But in the city? So close to their homes, some of those girls lived in Dorchester, people would find them."

"I don't know if they are staying in the commonwealth, or even the country. That's why you have to go back." She said with finality.

He exhaled long and slow. "You are right."

"But not tonight. Tonight you rest. You'll hunt again, some other night."

They starred at each other in the dark room and as the sun rose in the background he felt the RedStalker slipping away from him. His body became tired and loose, he would become the typing man, the day man again and he would sleep. The RedStalker would hunt again, but not as soon as he would like."

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