Little Ritchie dragged a limp figure through the pitch black corridor, navigating more from memory than by any sense of sight. It was slow going, and he may as well have been dragging a solid iron anvil behind him, but Boss' orders were final down in the pits of Hel.
His footsteps echoed down into the depths of the factory that Boss' crew had claimed as their home close to five years previous. Death caked these walls like thick molasses, creating a pallid odour that overpowered newcomers, even though Little Ritchie had become used to it after years spent living in the depths.
At the end of the hall there was a thick metal door, cobbled together from pieces of sheet metal and solid steel bars. It groaned and whined with the turn of handle, protesting against the hands of its intruders. Shifting his bulky form - and that of his prisoner - through the door, Little Ritchie was bombarded with the flash of half a dozen searchlights illuminating the entryway. That was something you could never train yourself for.
"Turn those fuckin' lights off o' me!" Raucous shouting, whoops and jeers greeted him, deafening the ears long before his sight corrected itself. He wiped the spots from his eyes with one hand as the lights were flipped to irradiate a vast underground warehouse - the base of operations the Lords of Hel had called home for half a decade.
A moan escaped the lips of the man - no, the boy - in his grasp, and he sighed wistfully. If he had just stayed silent and unconscious Little Ritchie knew Boss would have made it quick and painless. Now he would be afforded no less than a true rat's death. A shame, really, that someone so young should so recklessly encroach on their territory. Everybody knew who owned these streets, even if the dope slingers and small time chumps had to be reminded every few months.
The life of a criminal.
"This court better be getting easy 'fore I have to start clockin' heads!" Boss stepped out onto his "stage". In actuality, it was little more than an old flatbed that was missing an engine, with a few tables and a spotlight shining down on it from the ceiling. This was the Boss's office and, when judgement needed to be passed, his personal courtroom. The Boss gestured over to Little Ritchie, "Yo B, bring this wannabe dope racker up to me".
A hush fell over the warehouse as the words left Boss's mouth, and Little Ritchie walked down the low flight of stairs towards the flatbed. The kid stirred in his grip, beginning to fidget as he regained consciousness. As they started the second flight, his eyes flitted open rapidly, bloodshot and straining to take in his surroundings. He struggled against the iron hold Little Ritchie had placed over his neck.
"We got ourselves a lively one", Little Ritchie chuckled momentarily, until the boy's elbow shot into his groin, wounding his pride and sending tendrils of pain through the electrical cables that connected his nerves together.
Little Ritchie gasped, "You shouldn't have done that you little shit", and lifted a fist into the air. The kid's eyes shot wide, and he attempted to jump back and away from the strike, but he just wasn't fast enough to avoid the slug that knocked him to the ground. His captor roared, grabbing him by the scruff of his neck and the seat of his pants, heaving him down the rest of the staircase. The boy's head struck cool pavement, a sharp crack coupled with the dull thud of his crumpled body. He tried to rise, but another member of the gang calmly approached him and drove a booted foot into his gut.
"I want him alive, ye idiots," Boss spoke slowly, calmly, forcing those present to listen intently to his every word. This was a trick he'd learned when he still served on the Council of Five, a conglomerate of disparate gangs spread throughout New Rampart, and needed to be heard by his compatriots. He waved a hand to his lieutenant, Little Ritchie, and slowly paced back and forth upon his throne. His heart might shine a dull black, but the King of Hel held his ego on a silver pedestal, and he made sure all were reverent.
The boy was placed kneeling in front of the flatbed, tears welling in his eyes from thoughts of his impending death. He'd played the game, and now he had but to await his reward. Out on the streets, a knife in the dark was akin to a blessing, an end to your suffering here in New Rampart. But everybody had heard the whispers of the "glorious" executions that awaited those unlucky few who were taken to the Courts of Hel.
"Whaddya think's gon' happen to ye, now, boy?" Boss asked the trembling figure before him. "Ye steal from my territory, poach clients on my land, and miraculously I have a warehouse up in flames not two days since ye tried to muscle your way through the east side. Are ye daft?" His toothy grin belied the rising anger in his voice that clipped every word that he spat at the boy. "I don' even know yer fuckin' name," with this last statement Boss leaped down from his flatbed, landing in front of his captive.
"It's Qui-" A sharp crack - the sound of Boss shattering his cheekbone - interrupted the boy's introduction.
"I couldn't care less 'bout the names of dead men." Boss stretched his right hand out, beckoning one of his lackeys over. "And ye're about to start rottin' real soon, boy". The gang member he'd called over - Damien - deposited a long steel machete into Boss' hand, then scurried away to stand with the rest of the rats on the sidelines. Juniors weren't allowed to speak up in the presence of a full member until they'd earned their first stripe - generally with the death of a police officer, however many they had left since the Lords of Hel had moved into New Rampart.
Little Ritchie knew what was coming next, he'd been present for dozens of these such events. He had almost felt pity, even remorse over the impending death of the racker that would paint their floor crimson. After the tears and the elbow to his groin, he welcomed the renovation. This boy was a coward, he knew. Not one the Lords would ever have counted on or trusted even if he begged them to let him join. Little Ritchie dragged a table over with him as he approached Boss and the boy.
"Hold his arm down, Ritchie", Boss said to him with a cursory glance in his direction, and he did. This was the only part he ever hated. He knew the screams would come. He couldn't help whispering "Don't fight it", as he grabbed the thief's left forearm and held it flat to the table. Even rats deserved some small measure of dignity.
The machete was held high in the air, the spotlights glinting off the steel like a sun high in the sky. "This my favourite part", Boss said with a wide smile, and the machete fell like a guillotine onto the boy's outstretched arm. Blood spurted and sprayed red all over the table, all over Boss' shirt and face, and the boy let out a ear-piercing scream. His forearm was severed in half, a clean cut, almost expert even. Boss had gotten lots of practice over the years.
"Oh I knew ye'd be a screamer. Moment I first looked at them tears fallin' down your face i's said to myself 'this ones gonna howl like a banshee' and whaddya fuckin' know. Ye're just like all the rest." The boy was hysterical, barely breathing in between his screams, and Boss began laughing. Little Ritchie knew he was twisted - this happened everytime - but his laughs still formed a pit in the bottom of his stomach to this day.
Boss fixed his eyes on the center of the boys temple as he struggled to get away. "Keep him still, Ritchie, I canna get my aim right with him all bouncin' bout monkey-like", and Little Ritchie grabbed the boy by both shoulders and squeezed as hard as he could. He felt the boys bones cracking underneath the force of his meaty hands.
No sooner had the boy been stilled and the machete was once again high above Boss' head. He grinned in between his chuckles, licking his lips and relishing the moment for a few seconds, and then it was all over. The machete lay buried deep in the boy's skull with a solid thunk and Boss was wiping his hands clean on his pants. Little Ritchie released his hold and the kid slumped first onto the table, then rolled slowly to the ground. Blood soaked the floor in an ever increasing dark red pool of life force.
The whoops and jeers of the Lords of Hel boomed and echoed around the room with an intense wall of sound. Boss cupped his hands around his mouth, one of the few times his adrenaline pumped so fast that he couldn't help but yell, "Let everyone in the whole of New Rampart know what happens to the rackers in my neighbourhood!" He began walking away, back towards the flatbed and his "throne", and waved his hands at his lackeys.
"I hope the NRPD likes the smell of rotten flesh. Clean this git up".
Little Ritchie snorted. A cruel joke Boss liked to play on the police station of New Rampart, "piece the body back together". His lackeys were already going to work with crude bone saws, methodical in their approach. He did this at least once a month, and yet hadn't gotten anything more than a typed up letter asking him to please refrain from the practice. That was the thing with the NRPD Police Chief, he was so loosely separated from the gangs that ruled the streets that his only difference was the badge on his chest and the coffee in his hand. Bribery went a long way. Fear took you to the top.
The only easy day was yesterday. Something Little Ritchie's father had told him a long time ago. Every new day felt like a new weight being pressed onto his shoulders. It was becoming harder and harder to look on silently through the pall of death and decay that hung over his city. He sighed, a defeated breath escaping his lungs. When he woke up in the morning, all he could hope for was that he wasn't going to be next.
Little Ritchie grimaced at the thought of a new day spent in the hell hole he had practically been born in to. It made him sick to his stomach.
Author's note: Racker is a slang term used for a thief, if anyone had been guessing at the terminology. Reviews appreciated, contest piece for the WCC :)