Every time I pass a storm drain, I get the feeling something's watching me...like if I look, I'll catch the fleeting glimpse of a face. And though I know it's crazy, I swear to God sometimes I hear whispering coming from my sink.
I guess I'm just paranoid. Can you blame me? I know what lurks beneath New York, in the maze of subway tunnels, some long abandoned. If you'd seen what I saw, you'd be jumpy too.
See...I work for a mob family. I'm not gonna saw which because I'm no fucking rat, but it's one of the smaller three as opposed to the Big Five. I'm not a full member (made man), but my friend "Johnny" is; I do a little side work here and there, make a couple grand a week. Johnny's the one I usually wind up working for; I know his captain, Carmine Morello, but I don't technically answer to him. It's like when you hire a contractor and he, in turn, hires another contractor to do the actual work.
Anyway, last winter, a guy who worked for another captain in the same family got caught stealing money. The way the mob works is you make your cash, then you pass some up the chain: A little to your captain, and a little to the Big Boss. This guy was passing up a pittance compared to what he actually made. His captain went to the boss, and over drinks or something, they decided to whack the guy.
That's where Johnny comes in.
I can't say with any certainty that Johnny's a full time hitman. Hell, I don't even know if that's how it works (I thought they contracted their wet work out most the time), but Carmine hired Johnny on the other captain's behalf, and Johnny in turn brought me in.
When he first brought up the subject, we were at a diner on Staten Island overlooking the bridge to Manhattan.
"Man, I dunno," I said. I'd never been involved in a murder and I didn't really wanna start; murder's the big time, you know? It'll get your ass put away forever.
But Johnny pled. "Come on. I'll split the take 50/50 with you. I just don't wanna do it alone. Not this one."
Johnny shook his head. "Nothing. Just...help me, okay?"
I sighed and took a sip of my coffee. "Alright."
Two days later, Johnny came by my place at suppertime. "It's gonna happen tonight," he said. "Don't go to sleep or anything. I'll be back."
"Take your time," I said.
While I waited for Johnny to come back, I watched some TV and tried to pump myself up for the work ahead. It might sound cold, but I wasn't worried so much about actually killing the guy as I was getting caught. The guy was a criminal anyway. It's not like we were whacking a priest.
At about ten, Johnny called me and told me to meet him in front of my building in fifteen minutes. When I got into the car, the first thing I noticed was his clothes: Black sweater, black jeans, black leather jacket, black cap.
"I got a hoodie in the back for you," he said, gesturing. As he took off, I leaned into the back seat and grabbed the hoodie. It, too, was black.
"How are we doing this?" I asked, slipping the hoodie over my shirt.
"He's playing cards with a couple of our guys. They're gonna hold him there until we show. When we get there, I'm gonna go in and grab him. You slide over and keep the engine running, okay?"
Fifteen minutes later, Johnny parked along the curb in front of a strip club one of the guys in the family owned. He got out and rushed across the street; I climbed behind the wheel and put the radio on. Taylor Swift or some other gay shit was on.
A couple minutes went by. Johnny came out, this short, chubby guy in front of him. The guy's head was down. When they got closer, I saw Johnny had a gun in his back.
Johnny opened the back door, forced the guy in, and then slid in next to him.
"Go," he said.
I put the car in drive and took off.
"Where we going?" I asked.
Johnny gave me an address.
The streets were fairly empty at that hour; we met a few other cars on the way to our destination, but not many.
In the back, the guy whimpered and tried to beg, but Johnny smacked him and told him to shut up.
By the time we got into Manhattan, it was pushing eleven-thirty. The address Johnny gave me was on the Lower East Side, right on the waterfront; it took us another ten or fifteen minutes to get there, so let's say it was midnight when we arrived.
The place wound up being an abandoned warehouse, its windows shattered and its grimy façade splattered with graffiti. Johnny directed me to one of the concrete loading docks: I backed in and cut the engine.
"Let's go," he said, more to the guy than to me.
We got out, Johnny dragging the thief with him.
"Bobby, grab the cuffs outta my pocket and put 'em on his wrists."
I reached into Johnny's pocket and pulled out a pair of handcuffs. Meekly, the thief offered me his hands and I slapped them on.
"Now hold him."
While I held the guy by the back of his shirt, Johnny popped the trunk and rummaged around for a few minutes.
The thief was muttering a prayer. I'm not gonna lie, I did feel kinda bad for him. Then again, he shouldn't have skimmed. I mean, you're gonna steal from the fucking mob? You gotta know it's not gonna end well.
Anyway, Johnny slammed the trunk and shoved something at me; it was dark so I couldn't see what it was at first.
I grabbed it.
A fucking assault rifle. I'm not too big on my guns, but I think it was an M4, M16, something like that. It had a scope and a flashlight affixed to the barrel.
"The fuck?" I asked.
Johnny nodded. "We're gonna need it."
Johnny clicked on his flashlight and I clicked on mine. We led the guy into the building through an open door; the place was vaulted and dark, stank like mold and mildew.
Johnny took the lead; I brought up the rear. We crossed the factory floor, went through an archway, and then ducked down a set of rickety stairs into a wide basement. Perfect place to kill a guy.
Only we didn't stop there. At the end of the basement was another door. Beyond that, another set of stairs.
"Where the fuck are we going?"
The stairs let out onto a long tunnel; on either side, it disappeared into darkness. From somewhere, a cold, dank wind blew, washing over me.
Johnny ducked left, and I followed. The guy dragged his feet like a man walking down death row for the final time.
About a hundred feet down the tunnel, we came to a ladder. Johnny went down first, the guy second, and me last.
"How far are we goin?" I asked.
"A little further."
A little further turned out to be half a mile. As we walked, I starting noticing a strange smell under the layers of rot and earth: Something...primal. Like shit mixed with onions.
"Alright. This should be good."
Working quickly, Johnny whipped out a pair of shackles and put them around the guy's feet. Then he pushed him to his knees.
Johnny looked at me: In the cold LED light, his face was pale and drawn.
He looked scared.
"Alright," he said, backing up. "You watch this way and I'll watch the back."
I was starting to get kinda freaked myself. "What the fuck's going on here? What are we doin?"
"Just watch. And if any of them get too close, shoot 'em."
Johnny nodded. Ignoring my "What the fuck's that supposed to mean?" he cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled. "Come and get it, assholes! Dinner time!"
"What's going on?" the thief whimpered.
Yeah. What's going on?
"Just keep your light up."
I sighed and aimed the rifle down the tunnel. I didn't see anything.
But I did hear something. A sort of scratching.
My heart started racing.
Something shambled into the light then. At first it was simply a shadow, but as my eyes adjusted, I saw it was a person.
Or it was like a person.
Its face was white and long; its eyes were too big, and black. Its body was bent and twisted, and it moved by shuffling, its feet scraping on the floor.
Another one appeared behind it. I took this one to be a woman because its hair was long.
Two more brought up the rear.
The thief started bawling, thrashing.
I watched with dumb horror. As the got closer, I could smell them; rank, wild, unwashed.
"What the fuck are those things?" I asked, my voice breaking. I fell back a step, bumping into Johnny.
The thief was screaming.
In the furthest reaches of the light, I could see more of them coming; white faces seeming to float disembodiedly in the shadows. There had to be twenty, thirty of them.
And they hissed.
Even today I can hear it in my head. Not like a snake; more like a feral cat.
They were reaching for the thief. In his terror he'd fallen over; he was like a turtle on its back.
"Shit," Johnny said.
I turned, my light following his own. Three of the bastards were coming up on our rear.
The thief started shrieking then, a loud, high-pitched sound of agony.
"Shoot them!" Johnny said.
He opened fired on the three, the reports deafening in the small space: They danced and jerked and fell.
Two more scuttled out into the light.
I pulled the trigger: The shots slammed them in the chest.
"Let's get out of here," Johnny said.
He led and I followed. Three more of the things appeared before we reached the ladder; Johnny shot two and I whacked one in the head with the butt of my rifle. I wish I hadn't: In the brief second I was close to it, I got a good look at its face...its black, sightless eyes, its long, yellow teeth.
When we reached the ladder, Johnny started up first. While I waited, I shone the light back the way we had come. Nothing. The tunnel stood empty.
I shone it the other way...
...and my blood turned to ice water. Less than fifty feet away, the tunnel was absolutely fucking crammed with them; they stood shoulder-to-shoulder, rank on rank.
I dropped my gun and started up the ladder. When I got to the top, I think I was crying.
"Come on," Johnny said, pulling me up. "We're safe up here. They don't come this far."
I made the mistake of looking down: They were reaching toward me, their hands hooked and clawing. The sound of them hissing, moaning, groaning was almost deafening. I was dumb with horror.
"Come on!' Johnny yelled, grabbing me.
I followed meekly behind as Johnny led me back to the stairs. Realizing with a sudden jolt that I didn't have my rifle, I pulled out the Saturday Night Special I wear under my shoulder and held it like a talisman.
Back in the basement, Johnny closed the door and locked it.
"We're okay," he panted. "Come on."
On the ride home, neither of us spoke much.
"What were those things?" I asked.
"Mole people," Johnny said.
I looked at him. "Mole people?"
He nodded. "Sometimes homeless people live in the tunnels. You know?"
Yeah, I knew. That was part of the city folklore, right along with alligators in the sewers.
"Well, there are a lot of tunnels down there. Six levels, I think."
He told me that the mole people had gone down to the lowest levels long ago, and never came to the surface. They were blind, wild, and cannibalistic.
"They evolved differently down there."
That night, I slept with my lights on.
In fact, I still sleep with my lights on.