by Vonn Frey
Johnny Ace and the devil cat ran down the city streets. It was a dark night, with only flickering street lights, and the pale moon to illuminate the road ahead. He wore a fedora, which covered his graying hair, and a spiky stubble witch hid the wrinkles forming on his chin. In his hand, he held a revolver. An elegant black cat with eyes that glowed a fiery red in the night’s monstrous shadows closely followed.
The devil cat looked back at her pursuers: two men who tried a little too hard to look inconspicuous with their long trench coats. She wasn’t fooled with her sarp vision; she could clearly see the guns the men were counseling at their shoulders.
“John, pull into the alleyway, I can guide you in the dark so we can both lose ‘em.” She said, turning back to her partner.
“Good idea,” John replied, then quickly pivoting down the pitch black corridors.
The two men, seeing the runner’s plan, withdrew their pistols and shot into the dark, grazing John’s arm. He countered with two blanks, in an attempt to keep the pursuers back while still preserving the minuscule amount of ammo he had.
The devil cat clambered onto John’s shoulder, whispering directions into his ear as he continued running.
The pursuers dropped behind as they stumbled over the lost trash cans and tight turns Relief rushed over John as he pulled further ahead, but that feeling was soon stifled when the passage came to a dead end.
“Darn it, Imp, why’d you lead me here? We’re goners now.”
The devil cat cringed at the sound of her name. “I didn’t know the alley ended like this. “Why don’t you just climb up to the roof of one of those buildings?”
John inhaled. “You’re right, no time to complain.” He started his ascent up the wall, while the devil cat leapt up from drainage pipe to drainage pipe.
Within the final stretch, he hoisted himself onto the roof. Bam. A bullet to the arm. He dangled from the building’s edge by a single hand.
He looked up at the devil cat. “Go on without me. Find him, tell him I love him, even though we may never be able to meet.”
“No. We’re in this together. I can’t let you give up now that you’ve gotten so far.”
“If I’m still alive at the end of this, meet up at the God Beast forest, okay?”
“No, John. Please.”
He let go, and Plummeted to the ground.
John woke up chained to a chair. A man in a tattered trench coat smiled at him from across the room. He looked for his eyes, but the shadows masked them from every angle. Definitely not the type of government agent he expected.
“You believe in tarot, Mr.Burks?”
That was his real name: Michael Burks. The fact that the man knew it only confirmed John’s suspicion. This man, as strange as he was, worked as a government agent.
“No, I can’t say I do. What of it?” John asked, stalling for time.
“Well, I do,” said the strange man,as he withdrew a deck of cards. “So I hope you don’t mind me using it while I ask a few questions. He produced three cards from the deck. “Why did you abandon the mission?” he asked as he revealed them: the hanged man, and both the devil and the world upside down.
John debated what lie would keep him alive the longest.
“Because I obtained crucial information and needed to bring it back as soon as I could, even if it compromised the original plan.”
“Interesting. The cards tell me that you did it for yourself, to gain closure over what you sacrificed and restore your own control over yourself.”
“I call bull.”
How’d the cards know? The Devil Cat convinced him to take off in the first place. But he made that decision himself. They didn’t know what he sacrificed. Didn’t know why he spent so many years as someone he wasn’t. John had been a father and a spy. For all those years spying, pretending to be someone he wasn’t, his justification was always the same. He was doing this to make the world a safer place for his kid, and that was enough to keep him going. That is until he met the devil cat.
“It’s true. I can see it in your eyes. Don’t worry, I respect you for that, I did it myself once. How could I not?” The man cackled, showing off his large mouth and razor teeth. “That’s why I’m giving you a chance. We’ll play a game, and if you win, you go free. No charges against you. If I win, then I take whatever I want from that little mind of yours. Deal?”
John scanned the area for a way out. He saw something up in the scaffolding. Imp. The devil cat.
“Alright, deal,” John said, knowing that the devil cat would get him out if he bought enough time.
“These are the rules…” said the man.” We each take turns drawing cards from a deck of playing cards. If you draw a red card, you get a point, but if you draw a black card, the game ends. The person with the most cards at the end of the game wins. Every turn, you decide how many cards you draw. You go first.”
“Let me think,” John said. The devil cat jumped down from the rafters and clawed at the ropes that bound him in place. He looked at the deck in quiet contemplation. When the final bit of rope was cut, he said,“One card,” drew a red, and flicked it into the strange man’s face as he sprung up and ran out the door.
The building he was in seemed to be a police station with lines of offices and file cabinets. John quickly ran through the halls, not stopping long enough for anyone to see who he was.
“Thanks for the save,” he said to the devil cat as she ran beside him.
“I wasn’t going to let you die. You’ll see your kid if it’s the last thing you do.”
He burst out of the building and looked around. Still in the city, right where he needed to be.
A group of police along with the strange man rushed out of the building. He looked down, and noticed he stood on the station’s roof. He jumped down onto the emergency stairway and then off that to the roof of a building that was a few feet away.
“Do you know where the orphanage is?”
“Yes, I saw it on the way here. I’ll take you.”
She sprang ahead, led John that way as the police shouted and shot at him.
He jumped onto the roof of the orphanage. “This is it. Now we need to get down.”
A bullet hit John’s leg. He stumbled to the ground as another hit, then another, then another.
The devil cat was the one who told him about how his wife had died in childbirth, leaving the kid at an orphan, and all the regret that John had experienced during his years away bursted out. That’s why he had abandoned the mission to go on the dangerous trek back to his home country and adopt his kid back.
Horrified, the Devil Cat looked at John. She scanned the area in a frenzy and noted the orphanage’s skylight. Through the glass dome, a trio of kids played. “You’re not dying. Not without seeing your kid first.” She bit his shirt’s collar and dragged him towards the skylight.
“You’re not going to die without seeing the kid first,” she said with her teeth clenched, slowly, slowly dragging John as he left a trail of blood.
That’s right. The kid. His kid.
“Look!” She said when she had pulled John a sufficient length. There they rested.
In truth, she didn’t know if any of those kids were John’s. But John, too injured to care, smiled nonetheless as the strange man, stepped onto the orphanage’s roof, and said, “I drew the whole deck. Game’s over, but I have all the red cards. I win. And the prize I demand is your soul!”