As a bar, The Madman had never lived up to its name. It was never really crazy, even on a Saturday night. Matt liked The Madman; especially when he wanted a quiet drink. It was a tiny hole in the wall, with worn linoleum floors, and faded street find couches and chairs. The tables were warped and heavily scarred, and the air had an eternal cloud of cigarette smoke.
The same bartender seemed to be working every night Matt had visited the bar. From what Matt could figure, the bartender was the only staff the Madman had. Besides Matt and the bartender, the Madman was nearly empty. The only other people in the bar were a couple at a nearby table.
One of the two was a girl-goth; with purple hair and lip piercings. She wore a tight concert tee that showed off the half sleeve of tattoos along her left arm. She was slim, and quite attractive. Normally, the girl would be the reason for Matt’s occasional glance, but at the moment, his attention was on her mate.
The girl’s companion was a giant of a man; stuffed uncomfortably into his chair, and crouched over the table. His hand was fisted around his pint glass, and was easily the size of the girl’s head. His features were hidden under a ragged hoodie. Matt caught the movement of the big man’s head, and looked away before he could be caught staring.
Matt looked back down at his empty drink, and nodded to the bartender. The bartender refilled the pint glass, slid him an ashtray, and left him to his thoughts. Matt lit a smoke, and reached into his jacket. He pulled the pink slip out, and looked it over for the millionth time.
Matt shook his head. Laid off? With a package? It didn’t make sense. He wasn’t against the idea, but it felt like a mistake. Matt had worked construction, but he wasn’t a skilled labourer. Matt lifted and carried. Lifting and carrying doesn’t get laid off, and it certainly doesn’t get a package.
Matt was still staring at the pink slip when the goth-girl pulled up a barstool. She patted Matt’s arm gently, and smiled at him. “Hey, you doing ok sailor?” It was a terrible impersonation of a Manhattan accent.
Matt slid the pink slip back into his pocket, and half smiled at the girl. “Was that supposed to be a proposition?” he questioned. “If it was, it was awkward at best.”
The girl mocked hurt. “Aw, you didn’t even let me get to the part where I ask you to buy a girl a drink.” She tipped back the dregs of her old pint, and looked over her shoulder.
Matt followed her glance. The thug she’d been sitting with was gone. “Your boyfriend take off?”
Goth-girl looked confused for a second before she burst out laughing. “Who, Krudd? He’s not my boyfriend. Not even my type.” She motioned towards the bathrooms. “He’ll be in there for a bit.”
Matt chuckled, and lit a smoke of his own. “His name is Crud? Not exactly a sales pitch.”
“He spells it with a K,” the girl explained. “Or I guess he would if he could spell.”
Matt chuckled. He lit a new smoke off the butt of his old one, and took a drink. “So the guy’s living up the stereotype then? Big and stupid?”
“And mean, and dangerous, and one track minded,” The girl added, ticking off the points on her fingers. “His type tends to be. I was just finishing business with him when I saw you over here, being all maudlin.”
“Maudlin?” Matt shrugged. “I’m not sure I’m that interesting. Not the best company right now either.”
“Not that interesting?” She shook her head. “Drinking away your sorrows alone at the bar? Pining over your last case, or a lost love? You couldn’t be more noir if you were monologuing.”
“I’d need to be a detective for that to make sense,” he countered. “I’m not.”
“Not yet,” she corrected.
Matt ignored the odd comment. “I got laid off,” he explained. “Nice enough package, but still jobless.” Matt sighed, and finished off his pint before turning attention to the new one. “It was a crap job, so I’m still unsure how I feel about the news.”
“It’s probably for the best Matt,” the girl commented. “You’re wasting your talents on that construction site.”
“Well thanks,” Matt began. He stuttered to a stop, and stared suspicion at the girl. “How’d you know I worked construction? How’d you know my name?”
“You’d be amazed what I know,” The girl replied with a wry grin. “I’m the trouble dame that just walked into your life.” She offered Matt her hand. “I’m…”
“KAY!” Krudd yelled over her from across the bar. He stood in the door of the washroom, and stared hatred at the two. “Kay! I heard you laughing. You don’t laugh at me!”
Matt got a brief look under Krudd’s hood as the huge man stomped across the bar. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but something was very wrong with Krudd’s face. He didn’t have that much time to look, as Krudd cleared the distance in only a few long strides. Krudd grabbed Kay by the arm, and roughly swung her off of her stool. Matt made to stand, but Krudd grabbed him by the back of the head, and slammed his face on the bar.
“This doesn’t concern you little man,” Krudd told Matt with a deep growl. He lifted Matt’s face slightly, and slammed it down again to punctuate his warning. Krudd ignored Kay’s protests as he dragged her out of The Madman.
Matt rubbed the side of his face, and looked at the door. “I wouldn’t,” the bartender said. He smiled sympathetically at Matt, and continued to clean a glass. “I’d leave well enough alone if I were you,” the bartender continued. “Kay can take care of herself. Besides, that guy will open a whole world of trouble you want nothing to do with.”
“Good advice,” Matt said. He pounded back his pint, and tossed a twenty on the bar.
“Good advice that you won’t listen to,” the bartender guessed.
Matt nodded his response. He quickly downed his pint for extra courage, and marched out the door after Krudd.
The streets were abandoned, and the smell of spring rain and wet pavement hung in the mist. Only one streetlamp still worked on this block, and it shone light on Matt as he lit a smoke. Very noir indeed, Matt considered. He could hear Krudd shouting, and followed the sound to an alley across from the bar.
The alley was the dead end sort, beside a Chinese restaurant. Garbage bags littered the walls, and the air stunk of old grease and rotted meats. Kay was against the far wall, rubbing her wrist. Krudd loomed over her, yelling obscenities. Matt stared at Krudd’s back. Unfurled, Krudd was easily seven foot tall. The big man was four foot wide at the shoulders.
“You think you can laugh at Krudd? Is that what you think?” Krudd fumbled with his belt. “I’ll give you something to laugh at bitch!”
Matt considered interrupting with sarcasm. Krudd was a stupid name, even for seven feet of thug. Krudd had even left an opening for a small penis comment. It was easy material. Matt sized up Krudd, and all wit vanished from his mouth. “Hey, leave her alone,” he ordered in what he hoped was a commanding voice.
Krudd grunted his annoyance at the interruption. He didn’t look before he swung a meaty backhand into Matt’s face. Matt was thrown backwards, and crashed into the pile of wet garbage bags. He rubbed his jaw, surprised that it was still attached.
When Matt staggered to his feet, Krudd was towering over him. Krudd’s hood was down, and Matt finally got a good look at him. Krudd’s greasy hair hung to his shoulders, and framed his misshapen face. His jaw jutted forward, and his teeth were too big to fit in his face. His eyes were sunken, and one was much larger than the other. His oversized forehead had great lumps on it, like horns that had never surfaced. He had one thick eyebrow that spread to each of his hubcap sized ears.
Krudd cracked his knuckles. Giant canines jutted from his mouth as he sneered down at Matt. “Krudd told you to stay out of it little man. Now Krudd’s going to have to teach you.”
Matt lashed out his foot in a frantic kick. He caught Krudd in the knee, and could feel the joint pop. The large man stumbled back, and howled in pain. Matt stumbled to his feet. He was a bit surprised of the damage he’d managed on Krudd with a wild kick, but didn’t waste the time thinking on it. Matt had a few years of karate under his belt, and a couple others of boxing. He’d taken them mostly to keep fit, and had never used his training outside of the gym. Despite this, Matt found it easy to slip into form.
Krudd swore, and rubbed his knee. He stared hatred at Matt for a moment, before acknowledging that his smaller opponent had taken a combat stance. “Really?” Krudd laughed. He stretched his arms out in a show of size, able to touch his knuckles to each wall of the alley. “You think you can fight Krudd?”
Matt didn’t waste time on comment. He stepped into Krudd’s space. The big man saw at the last second how open he’d left himself, but there was little he could do about it. Matt swung his full weight behind an uppercut. He connected with an audible crack, and lifted Krudd off the pavement. The big man tumbled backwards, and landed in a heap.
Matt dashed forward to follow up, and stopped short. He stared from Krudd to his fist. There was a weird tingling running through his body, like liquid fire running through his muscles. Trained or not, Matt was certain he shouldn’t have been able to hit the big man that hard. Krudd groaned, and began to stand up.
“Don’t think about it!” Kay yelled from the back of the alley. “It’s a bit messed, and I’ll explain later. Right now, you need to just roll with it!”
Matt looked at her a second, confused about what she was trying to tell him. He looked back just in time to bring his arms up in defence of Krudd’s swing. Krudd’s giant fist Connected hard with Matt’s forearms. Matt didn’t fall, but was shifted backwards a few feet by the blow.
Krudd roared his frustration, and slammed a long sideswipe at Matt. Matt blocked again, but this time was smacked into the wall of the alley. Krudd finished with a downward punch into Matt’s skull, and dropped Matt to his knees. Krudd roared again, this time in triumph. The sound vibrated through Matt’s chest.
Matt shook out the cobwebs, and wiped a trickle of blood from his chin. Fine, he decided. Roll with it. He punched Krudd as hard as he could in the midsection. Krudd let out an explosion of breath, and folded in half. Matt rose quickly, and grabbed handfuls of the Krudd’s filthy hair. He pulled Krudd forward, and slammed a knee into his chin. Krudd’s mouth snapped shut with the sound of breaking chalk. Matt stepped up the wall behind him, and used it for leverage as he twisted a spin kick into Krudd’s face. This time, when the big man hit the ground, he made no motion of getting back up.
Matt took some calming breaths, and slowly dropped his stance. He was shaking from the adrenaline, and had to fight to keep the beer in his stomach. He looked at the giant on the ground in front of him, only now letting his brain go off on how messed up the night was.
Kay walked the distance of the alley calmly. She gave Krudd a cursory glance before she smiled sympathy at Matt. “You doing ok?”
“Jeez. Ah, ah jeez.” Matt shook his head, and shut his eyes. “This can’t be happening.”
“Don’t hide from this,” Kay commanded. “This is your big Red Pill, Blue Pill moment. Don’t let go of it,” Kay rubbed his shoulder, and motioned at Krudd. “Open your eyes. Tell me what you see.”
“He’s messed up,” Matt said. “Some sort of ganger. It must be scarification or…” He looked hard at Krudd. “He’s a monster.”
Matt couldn’t believe what he’d said aloud; worse, Kay seemed elated to hear it. “This is pretty fucked up right here.” he said. “Did you dose my drink or something?” He waved at the figure on the alley floor. “It’s a mask right? This is some sort of trick.”
“Oh for the love of Christ.” Kay pointed at Krudd. “Look at him! Does it look like he’s wearing a mask? Does it?”
Kay sighed heavily. She lit a smoke, and offered one to Matt. “Ok, I know it’s hard the first time. Everything you know about the world is wrong.” She waved at Krudd again. “Monsters are real, and they wander the streets with all the Normals. You know now.”
Matt took one of Kay’s cigarettes, and lit it. His hands were shaking pretty badly. He took a drag and stared at Krudd again. The big man groaned, but still didn’t get up. “There was a woman, lived at the end of my street when I was young,” he told Kay. “She was really old, and her house was a mess. The kids used to say she was a witch, and that she was eating all those kids that went missing.” Matt prodded at Krudd experimentally with his boot. “Thing is, she looked like a witch: matted hair, twisted face, warts, the works. When I’d tell adults that, they didn’t see it the same, and said it was rude to make fun of old folks.” Matt finished his smoke in three heavy drags, and tossed the butt across the alley. “I’ve seen other stuff like her, like him,” he pointed at Krudd. “I think I’ve always been able to see it, but I’ve always rationalized it away.”
“That’s what people do,” Kay explained. “But most can’t see them the way you do.” She smiled. “You’re special Matt. There’s only a few folks that can see The Others naturally.” She shrugged. “People can be trained to see it, but most go insane when they look past the veil.”
“Is that what will happen to me? Will I go insane.” Matt didn’t really expect an answer. He didn’t feel crazy, just a little sick. He didn’t even feel that strongly against the concept that monsters were real. Matt wondered if that was an insanity of it’s own. He shook his head, and changed the subject. “What do we do with him?”
“Nothing,” Kay commented casually. “Krudd isn’t really that big a problem. He’ll remember the beating you gave him, and he’ll keep his head down for awhile.”
Matt looked at Kay. She smiled casually, and acted like this was just another night. “What would have happened to you if I hadn’t come here?” Matt remembered Krudd fumbling with his belt, and kicked the big creature in disgust. “He was going to…”
“Mean, violent, one track minded,” Kay reminded Matt. “I knew the risks dealing with him.”
“But he would have…”
“No he wouldn’t.” Kay shrugged. “He might have tried, but then I would have taken him out.” She chuckled at Matt’s sceptical look. “I do this all the time,” she explained. “Until now, I was doing it pretty much alone.”
Matt nodded in a daze. He shook his head when the words finally reached it. “Wait, what do you mean, until now?”
“I think that’s pretty obvious,” Kay noted. “I mean…” She stopped, and looked down at Krudd. “He’ll wake up eventually,” she said. “Do you want to take this conversation inside?” She motioned to The Madman.
Matt nodded, and followed Kay back to the bar. He was surprised to find a pitcher waiting at the table. Matt poured a pair of pints, and stared out the window, unsure what to say next. Outside, Krudd limped passed. The big man gave the bar one glance, and sped up his pace.
Kay smirked as she watched Krudd slide by the window. She lit a smoke, and smiled at Matt. “Well, go on then,” she suggested. “You have questions.” Kay offered a cigarette from her pack.
Matt waved Kay’s offered smokes away, and lit one from his own pack. “Alright,” he started. “You fight monsters? Regularly?” He shook his head. “You’re like Buffy?”
“More like Willow,” Kay muttered, “but without the naïve charm.” She shrugged. “It’s not that simple, but it’s a good start. We investigate the strange stuff that no one else can explain.”
Kay took a drink. “We,” she repeated. “Right now it’s me and a guy named Daniel. He doesn’t tend to work the field though. There was Jackie as well, but…” Kay sighed and shook her head. She smiled over the table. “And then there’s you.”
“Me.” Matt shook his head. “Well, I’m glad you’ve already decided that I’m in.”
Kay rolled her eyes at Matt. “Oh, come on. You know you are. You can’t tell me you aren’t interested. I mean, you’ve seen the other side. You’ve met Krudd.”
“You set that up.” Matt frowned. “You knew I’d be here somehow, and you brought Krudd.” Matt took a drink. “You talked to me to make sure I didn’t miss you two. You knew he’d think that you were talking about him, and you knew that he’d get mad.”
“And you said you’re not a detective.” Kay smiled at her own cleverness. “Yeah, you’re right on most parts.” she admitted. “I mean, Krudd was already mad, and he was due for a warning. I would have been talking to him tonight with or without you.” She blew a smoke ring before she continued. “As for setting it up? You come here all the time. I’ve seen you before, and I could tell you were one of us. I figured you just needed that extra push.”
Matt rubbed at the bruise forming on his forearm. “Well, Krudd’s a hell of a push.” Matt thought for a moment; part of the puzzle was missing. He blinked, and looked at his jacket pocket. “You got me fired too, didn’t you?” He shook his head when she didn’t deny it. “You somehow got me fired, and set me up with…”
“…with a pretty sweet package?” Kay finished. “More than you’d have made this year?” She took a swig of beer. “That was Daniel, but yeah, same thing.”
“Daniel,” Matt repeated.
“You’ll meet him tomorrow.” Kay lit a smoke, and mocked concern. “I mean, unless you’re turning down the job?”
Matt lit a smoke of his own. He finished his pint, and motioned for another. He left the question hanging in the air for a few minutes. “Is it always this weird?”
Kay laughed. “You mean Krudd weird? No.” She shrugged at Matt. “Krudd’s sort of normal. Just wait till the real weirdness starts.”
Matt drank quietly, and Kay let him have his thoughts. He shrugged. “Fine,” he relented. “I’m in. When do I start?”
Kay tapped the pocket Matt had his pink slip in. “You’re already on the payroll,” she said with a smile. “Welcome to The Outside.”