STRIP THE SOUL
E-Mail: notmanos at yahoo dot com
Disclaimer: The characters of Angel are owned by 20th Century Fox and Mutant Enemy; theSummary: While in Los Angeles, tracking down a demonic killer, Logan begins to remember
character of Wolverine is also owned by 20th Century Fox and Marvel Comics. No copyright
infringement intended. I'm not making any money off of this, but if you'd like to be a patron of the
arts, I won't object. ;-) Oh, and Bob and his bunch are all mine - keep your hands off!
a vital part of his forgotten past - namely, how he came to be involved with the Organization.
Notes: Takes place shortly after "X2" and immediately after "The Hollow Men."
It didn’t matter that it was off Sunset Boulevard, the natural home of the freaky-deaky; Rags still stood out from a mile away.
Actually, he kind of made it worse. Maybe he was attempting to fit in wearing that white “wife beater” shirt that showed off his tattooed “sleeves” of black vines that crawled from his shoulders to the backs of his hand, going for the “cool tough guy” look. (Of course, he was assuming they were tattoos - maybe they were some odd natural “coloring” on a Persaid demon; he hadn’t met enough of them to know). But there was something about Rags that seemed far too passive to project an honestly tough or menacing air. He just seemed like the perfect guy to approach when you were hopelessly lost and looking for directions.
Maybe it was the yellow crystal eyes. Did no one ever notice that? Probably people just assumed they were some kind of colored contacts. After all, Hollywood was hardly known for its restraint or good taste. Turning to leave, he thought he saw movement in the shadows beside him, but if something was there, it wasn’t completely tangible.
Logan jumped down from the roof of the tattoo parlor where he had been scanning the block, and said, “Rags, wait up!”
He stopped with a slight jump, grabbing his chest like an old man having an attack of angina. “Jesus Christ,” Rags snapped, scowling evilly. “D’ya ‘ave to do that? Shit, you nearly gave me a ‘eart attack.”
“Sorry.” Down on the pavement, he saw what Rags’ jittering, barely visible companion was: Thrakkazog, or however you pronounced his far-too-complicated name. He looked like a mostly clear pile of slime, a four foot tall heap of jiggling Jello, not the least bit humanoid or any other -oid. You couldn’t even see his eyes or make out something remotely like a face. He could have been a giant sized loogie coughed up by Zeus or something. How could no one find that unusual on the street? A tattooed, crystal-eyed guy and his animate mucus ball, going for a late night stroll on Sunset. That should be good for at least one lingering stare, and possibly a car accident. Or even a sitcom development deal with Fox.
“If this is work or sumpfin’, yer outta luck. We’re celebratin’.”
He knew he’d regret it, but he asked anyways. “What?”
“Cinco de Mayo.”
Logan waited a moment for the punch line, but obviously it wasn’t coming. “That’s in May - in fact, it means “fifth of May”. This is August.”
Rags shrugged, pulling a
pack of cigarettes out of the front pocket of his jeans. “I know, I’m
Logan looked around, just to make sure there were no cameras filming this for some kind of demon prank show. He didn’t see any, but knowing demons and their sense of humor, that wasn't exactly a guarantee of anything. “Look, this isn’t about business exactly.”
“Exactly? Don’t like that word.”
Thrak made a sudden noise that sounded like water struggling to make its way down a clogged pipe, and Rags scoffed. “Now that ain’t true and you know it. See if I buy you a round.”
Rags spoke … well, whatever language Thrak spoke? It didn’t sound anything like a language at all; more like a digestive disorder. (Did a big pile of gelatin even have vocal cords?) “I need someone who knows all the bars and clubs - demon and Human - in the Los Angeles area. Your name’s on the top of that list.”
“Wha’ makes you fink I know that kinda stuff?”
Thrak gargled and choked for a bit, and Rags looked at him and scowled. “That’s such bullshit.”
Logan wished he spoke phlegm. No, wait, he didn’t. “C’mon Rags, you can’t tell me you don’t know L.A. How long have you lived here?”
He shrugged again, the cigarette now dangling from the corner of his mouth. “Dunno. A few years, I guess.”
Thrak made a noise like a runny toilet. If he’d had a handle, Logan would have jiggled it. Rags gave his friend, the (literal) slime-ball, a somewhat cross look, brow furrowing over his crystal eyes. “Surely it ‘asn’t been that long.”
“There’s twenty bucks in it for you if you help me.”
“Oh, all right,” he agreed abruptly. “Up front?”
Logan sighed and reached into his coat pocket, pulling out a twenty. It was too hot to actually be wearing any kind of coat, not to mention a leather one, but he’d just arrived in the city and didn’t even have a hotel room yet. Honestly, he just wanted to get this over with as soon as possible. He had other plans to make.
Rags took the proffered bill, and proceeded to fold it up into a square so tiny and precise that Logan wondered - not for the first time - if demons could be obsessive-compulsive. “So what is it I can ‘elp you wif, mate?”
“I’m lookin’ for a place called Arcanum. It’s not in the book, it’s not online, and the few people I’ve asked have looked at me funny. 'You know where it is?”
Rags seemed to glance up at him through half-mast eyelids, but since he had no irises or pupils, it was impossible to say how he managed to see any damn thing. “There’s two of ‘em,” he said, tucking the bill in his pants pocket. “One of ‘em’s an occult bookstore, so that probably ain’t what’cher after. The other’s a real exclusive club. I mean, you gotta travel in certain social circles to even know it exists.”
“So where is it?”
Yet another shrug, but this time he also used his hands. “I’ll ‘ave to ask around.”
Logan held his hand out. “Give me my money back.”
“Now, don’t be like that! I know who to ask - I’ll find out for ya. But why do you even wanna know? It doesn’t seem like your kinda scene.”
“I’m not lookin’ to dance. I just need to find someone.”
“Who? Maybe -”
“I don’t have a name. I just know where they’re supposed to be.”
Thrak made another gargling, choking sound that sounded somewhat like a death rattle, and Rags snorted a laugh. “That’s a bit ‘arsh, inn’t?”
Logan scowled at the big lump of slime, figuring he’d just been insulted, even if he didn’t know exactly how. “How fast can you get me the info?”
“I dunno. I’ll ask around tonight, see what I can find.”
“How do I get in touch with ya? At the Way Station?”
“No … look, where do you live? I’ll drop by tomorrow.”
Rags grimaced, looking like he’d just bitten into a very sour orange. “Umm, well …”
Thrak gargled again, this time sounding like a drain pipe clogged with leaves. “It isn’t that bad,” Rags insisted, sounding defensive. He then turned his gaze back to Logan, and admitted, “I live above the Jocko’s Taco off Mulholland. Can’t really miss it.”
He lived above a taco stand? That really was kind of sad, but he supposed rents in L.A. were as bad as rent in New York City. Still, you’d think the beloved of the Gorgons could swing a better place to live. “Right. I’ll drop by in the afternoon, okay?”
He nodded. “The later the better, prob’ly. ‘Ey, you wanna come pub crawlin’ with us? After we hit a couple spots, we were gonna check out a new karaoke place.”
Logan pointed at the walking - (slithering? Well, he had no legs) - Jello salad. “I thought he couldn’t sing ‘cause he killed people when he did.”
Rags made a dismissive gesture with his hand, as Thrak gargled slightly in protest. “Yeah, well, ‘e didn’t kill that many; that’s kinda been exaggerated. Besides, this place is a demon karaoke place, so everyone oughta be fine.”
“Uh, I got things to do, so thanks, but … maybe next time.” Such as when Hell not only froze over, but opened an ice cream parlor in Cleveland. “Have fun,” he added, turning away.
“Always do,” Rags replied, as Thrak gargled something that was probably equivalent. ”And stop jumpin’ off roofs, ya crazy bugger. Someone might shoot ya.”
Was Rags aware Logan really
care if someone shot him or not? Probably; it was just a nice
He continued down Sunset, going deeper into Hollywood, which was the total opposite of glamorous. Seriously, it was a seedy pit, and he had no idea how anyone could ever think otherwise, especially in this day and age.
He took off his jacket and slung it over his shoulder, but didn’t feel much cooler. Eventually he decided to pass by all motels that rented rooms by the hour, and go for slightly more upscale fleabag hotels. He paused to buy a bubble tea - fuck, it was hot, no matter that it was almost midnight - and eventually found a relatively clean looking place with no hookers loitering in the parking lot.
The Powers hadn’t given him a lot to go on, but it was easy to connect the dots, and see why even Yasha might have been eager for him to take this on. It was easy enough to use the internet to corroborate all of it: people were dropping dead of what the paper had deemed “extreme, rapid dehydration” due to the new “party drug” known as “pink” or “A” - anodyne, of course. The Three Dragons were starting to distribute it in California, and once it hit here, it was inevitable that everyone else would eventually get it. Of course, along with this “rapid dehydration”, the papers had to add that users said it brought an “incredible high”. Why not just say, “Come on, kids, if you don’t try it, you’re a pussy”. Maybe it was a good thing very few young people read the papers.
Not everybody who took it died, but that just created more questions. Why did some die, and like that? Logan didn’t believe the “dehydration” story for a minute. Maybe his healing factor prevented him from falling victim to whatever lethal aspect it had, but what made the difference between normal people? Was it something as logical as the amount taken, or as arbitrary as body chemistry? There was a demon connection here, even if it wasn’t clear in what way yet, and that had to play a part too. So basically he was playing detective with almost nothing to go on, except a familiarity - of sorts - with anodyne, and the name of a club, Arcanum, that he was basically told he had to go to. Still, finding drugs in L.A.? That was child’s play.
After getting a room, he crossed the street and bought a six pack of reasonably decent beer (it wasn’t the best, but it would do), and finally settled in. He filled his bathroom sink with ice, to keep the beer cold, and then ordered a pizza from the company that had left an advertising flyer on his door. Only in L.A. could you get delivery pizza until one in the morning.
Anodyne. Man, he couldn’t help but wish he could feel that stuff again. It wasn’t an “incredible high”, although the pain-free side effect may have qualified. No, the best thing about anodyne, as far as he could tell, was the absolute sense of peace it gave you. It wasn’t like ecstasy, or what he imagined ecstasy to be; anodyne just made you feel that everything was right with the world, and with yourself. There was no doubt, no fear, no pain, no sorrow - it was the Buddhist ideal of perfect enlightenment in liquid form.
That’s why he wanted it so bad, and that’s precisely what made it so dangerous. How could you not want that? It crossed all boundaries and appealed to everyone, whether they knew it or not. Anodyne had the potential to be more addictive than crack, and that was pure genius. He knew the demon member of the Dragons knew what they had on their hands, but did the Triad or the Yakuza? Could they appreciate the lethal gold mine-slash- powder keg they were sitting on?
Doubtful. It probably fed into the demon Dragons’ plan to get rid of the Yakuza and Triad in one fell swoop. Vanquish all the other competition, and then get rid of their partners. Both the Yakuza and Triad were too arrogant to even consider a double cross of that magnitude … but it was inevitable, wasn’t it? You’d think gangsters would know you never could trust another gangster, no matter how powerful and smart you thought you were. Logan still hadn’t figured out how to turn them against one another. It didn’t help that he was a highly wanted man among the Yakuza chickenshits.
While waiting for the pizza guy, he sat on his rather hard motel bed and turned the T.V. on, wondering if there was anything besides infomercials, talk shows, and soft core porn on at this hour. At the beginning, the answer was no, but then on one of the obscure cable channels, he discovered the last part of 'Kiss Me Deadly' playing. So he watched it, amused at how things had changed since the “film noir” days, but by the time the pizza guy had came and went, he discovered it was some kind of “film noir” movie marathon, and the next movie up was 'Out Of The Past'. He had vague memories of having seen it before, but he was soon engrossed in it, as if it was completely new to him. Damn, what a good film; this was back when Hollywood continued to flirt with sharp, snappy dialogue. Why did they ever give that up? Maybe it was too hard to write all the time.
He was done with the pizza and on his second to last beer as 'Double Indemnity' rolled, and he wondered if he had ever been sadder. Sitting in a cheap motel room, eating greasy pizza and drinking sub-par beer, watching old movies on a television bolted down to its stand so no one could steal it, as if anyone would want to. He should be out stalking the clubs, trying to find the anodyne distributors …but then, all he’d find would be the middlemen. He needed the head honchos, the people who really knew what was going on - and to attract their attention, he needed daylight.
By the time 'The Maltese Falcon' was under way, the sky was starting to get light at the edges, and he calculated that it was early morning in New York - very early morning. But he would bet his eye teeth that the Boy Scout was up. Something about him screamed 'irritating morning person'.
He dialed his cell phone and lay back on the hard bed, staring up at the stuccoed ceiling, and after a few rings, the call was picked up. “Summers.”
“You answer the phone like a walkie talkie?”
There was a long, annoyed pause. “What do you want, Logan?”
“Is Xavier up?”
“Not yet. Why?”
“Good. I have something to talk to you about, and he can’t know. Understand?”
He sighed. “No. Whatever it is you want, no.”
“A thousand times no.”
“Will you just shut up for a moment and listen to me?” He snapped.
“Why? If you’ve already forgotten, one of your “friends” gave me an unnecessary electroshock, and almost killed Saddiq a couple weeks ago.”
He rolled his eyes. “It’s not my fault the Org-”
“You’re nothing but a
Scott interrupted. “I don’t care about the Professor’s desire to let
“Whoa whoa whoa, hold the fucking phone, Sparky,” he interjected angrily. “I ain’t gonna live my life to please you, and it was never my intention to be a good example for anyone.”
He scoffed. “Well, that’s obvious.”
“But you can’t shelter those kids forever, and having everyone act like the same neutered fucking zombie isn’t good for anyone! Maybe the little kids’ll buy it, but the teenagers will know you’re full of shit. So they think I’m cool? Well, whose fault is that? They only think I’m cool ‘cause I act like a real fucking human being. Maybe if you tried it once in a while, they wouldn’t.”
A long, angry pause, full of hate. “Are you done?”
“Not hardly. What was that bullshit about me seeking redemption? I got nothin’ to be “redeemed” for.”
“And the saddest thing is you probably believe that.”
“Shall I bring up that church in Maine you leveled? What about Changan Junction? I wonder if anyone’s noticed it doesn’t exist anymore.”
Even as he said it, Logan knew it was a low blow, and half expected Scott to hang up on him. But instead the silence, rich with resentment, stretched on for awhile. He thought he heard a metal on metal sound in the background, and realized Scott had just thrown a wrench down. Was he working on cars this early in the morning? Well, well, something was gnawing on Junior’s short hairs - maybe the attack by Cole had made him more unsettled than he imagined.
“That wasn’t my fault,” Scott growled. “They telepathically rewired my brain -”
“Welcome to the party,” Logan interrupted. “You think you got mindfucked, bub? Wanna have a look at my scrambled brains? Maybe I’ll knock some out through my ear and mail it to ya. You can’t have it both ways - either the Organization raped both our brains half to death, or we’re both responsible. You can’t say you’re innocent because you’re such an upstanding citizen and I’m not ‘cause I‘m a fucking scumbag.”
Another pause, but Logan thought he sensed regret as opposed to open hostility. “I really don’t like the term 'rape'.”
“Why not? It’s applicable. At least you were only mentally violated. They cut me open, injected me with molten metal, shot me with automatic weapons, and drowned me to see what I could come back from. And because drugs only affect me for a little while, they vivisected me while I was still conscious. Do you know what that’s like? To feel your own skin peeled back like an orange rind -”
“Don’t you ever wonder why I wake up screaming?”
“Okay, okay, I get it
sighed heavily. “I’m sorry, okay? But I meant what I said -
danger to the kids, and I don’t want you here if you’re not going to
curb your more extreme behaviors.” Logan couldn’t help but notice he
never said he didn’t think of him as a fucking scumbag. So he
“Whatever. Are you gonna listen to me now?”
“I don’t know. What do you want?”
“I’m assuming you know Bob took care of Cole. Well, I've got Cole’s phone, his one means of contact with the Organization, and I can use it to trace them to their new base of operations. I want to assemble a strike team and hit ‘em.”
“Because that worked so well last time?”
“Last time I went in alone.”
“Not really. You had Jean, remember?” There was an awful lot of bitterness and innuendo packed into those few words.
“I didn’t expect Jean to show up. She surprised me as much as the Organization. I’m not counting on her doin’ a repeat.”
“What about Bob? He can take them out.”
“The Organization is already afraid of Bob. What they need to be is afraid of us.”
“Us? Are you including me in this?”
“Why the fuck d’ya think I called? So you could go all fishwife on me?”
“What the hell does that mean, “go all fishwife”? If you were my husband, I’d kill myself.”
“And if you were my wife, I’d help. Look, I want you and Saddiq -”
“Saddiq?! Are you fucking out of your mind?! No!”
“No! No kids!”
“I know Saddiq. As much as we don’t like it, he was born and bred to think his only purpose in life was to fight, and all of his ego and self-identity is predicated on that. Until he learns to adjust, that’s all he’s got, and he won’t forget being beaten. He will hold a grudge and it will fester; best to let him get it out now, on a deserving target. And you know damn well he can take care of himself better than most adults.” He wanted to add “Better than you”, but didn’t.
“So we’ll take advantage of his warrior slave upbringing in Rajan.”
“I didn’t say I liked it, but it would make sense, and might make him feel better. How’s his recovery been goin'?”
There was a brief pause, and Scott pointedly didn’t answer that question. That told Logan all he needed to know. “Three does not a strike team make.”
“I’m gonna bring in Marcus -”
“Should have guessed.”
“- Srina, a friend of mine you don’t know, Helga -”
“Should have guessed that too.”
“- I got some friends in London looking for Spider, but we might not find him in time. And lastly, The Sisters.”
“What? Oh, no no no, not those psycho vampires -”
“They’re our aces in the hole.”
“They’re nutjobs, sadistic nutjobs on top of that, as if being vampires wasn’t bad enough on its own.”
And he hadn’t even seen them yank someone’s arms off. What would he think of them if he had? “But that’s why they’re so vital. The Organization still fights vamps like regular demons; they hit ‘em with bullets, electricity, projectiles, gas - everything but the wood and the sunlight that would actually kill them. And vampires are immune to telepathy, so if they attempt to hit us with that, they’re screwed.”
Scott sighed heavily. “If you have to bring a vampire into this, why not Angel? At least he seems relatively sane.”
“He’s busy. And frankly, I’m kinda sold on the Sisters’ innate viciousness.”
“You would be.”
“The Organization deserves them.”
He waited for Scott to attempt to refute that, but to his credit, he didn’t even try. “You know this is a vicious cycle. We’ll never scare them enough that they won’t come back.”
“Yeah, I know that. I just want to get some breathing room here, and I think you’d want the same thing, for the kids if not for you.” He was not above emotional manipulation. Sometimes it was all you had.
Another long pause from Scott, another put upon sigh. “I really don’t know about this.”
Actually, the fact that he didn’t use his ‘A thousand times no’ line on him again meant he had him. “You've got a couple days to think about it. I have some business to wrap up in L.A. first.”
“Business?” He asked archly. “What kind of business?”
“Do you really wanna know?”
This pause was extremely brief. “No. Try not to kill anyone. And if you do, try and stay out of the news. Things are bad enough for mutants nowadays as it is.” Scott then hung up, and Logan almost thought about calling back just to ask, “What, no goodbye kiss?” But he just dropped the receiver in its cradle, and picked his beer can up off the nightstand.
All in all, that went much
better than he'd expected.