Dead Red - M.R. Forbes


Are you gonna go my way?

I always tried to be quiet when I got back from a job. I always tried to step down the rickety wood steps to the basement of the small house in New Jersey where I was currently holing up without making a single creak.

Most times I was successful.

This wasn't one of those times.

There was a pattern on the steps that I'd memorized. First step was six inches to the left, second was four to the right, skip the third step completely and try to come down on number four near the front edge. I was tired tonight, my limbs like rubber, my throat and stomach constricted. It was taking all of my energy just to keep from losing my lungs on step number five.

So of course, I hit six and slipped.

I don't know what caused it. Maybe some bird flew by and shit right where I needed to put my foot. Maybe it was just bad luck. Either way, the end result was the same. My foot went forwards, my head went backwards, and I came down across the entire stairwell, making a racket that would wake the dead as well as I could.

It didn't need to wake the dead to be in trouble. All it needed to do was wake Prithi's parents.

I hit pretty hard though my overcoat absorbed a good portion of the pain. The ballistic material kept the edge of the steps from pushing too hard into any one spot, and even in my general state of near-deadness the blow didn't cause any lasting damage.

What it did was send out a crash that echoed through the manicured suburban backyard, up and into the bedroom of Satyan and Bindi Sharma.


I laid there, looking up at the sliver of moon that was peeking over the roofline. I held my breath, waiting for the bedroom light to go on, for Bindi's round face to poke out the window and see what the hell had just happened. I cursed myself for my weakness, the bird for its excrement, and Ms. Red for leaving me in this predicament in the first place.

Ms. Red. Misses. Fucking. Red. Jin. I could see the ghost of her in my mind's eye, vaporous in front of the moon. She was wearing a tight red number, a crazy thing like the ancient Greeks used to wear, with a front that only covered one breast. The other was exposed, as was the most badass tattoo of a dragon I'd ever seen. It snaked down and around the supple and perfectly defined curve, claiming ownership. It was a nice treasure to guard, damn her.

I saved her life a few months back. I'd done what both she and Mr. Black had asked me to do, even though it had left my best friend Danelle dead, and me even more destitute than when I'd started. Yeah, I'd gotten to keep the money that was promised to me in the end but I had nothing, literally nothing, by the time it was over. I lost Dannie, I lost my van, I lost all my guns and ammo and the house I was living in. I lost the only girl who could get my libido to do anything more than mock me with its ineffectiveness. Hell, I'd even lost my favorite corpse.

The pity party was fun for a while at least.

One point whatever million sounds like a lot when you have someone else doing your accounts payable. It sounds like a lot when you don't have Death himself gunning for you. When you're me it isn't enough. Not nearly enough.


I leaned my head back so I could look up the steps. My eyes tracked from the broken, weedy concrete to a pair of dark, bare, shapely legs, up to some skimpy boy shorts, up a little more to a flat stomach and then a large chest. Most men might have paused there, but I was used to it. Well, not in this exact situation. Not in panties and a night shirt with no bra underneath. Not on a cold night. I waited for a reaction. Dead as usual.

"What the fuck, Conor?" Prithi said. My eyes finally settled on her face. She was normally a pretty girl, delicate and silken. The way her face was turned in anger and her eyes burned into me stole a lot of that away. The only thing that saved her were her clothes, or lack of them.

"Slipped," I said. I finally started moving, trying